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SpaceX General Counsel Exits as Musk’s Legal Teams Shuffle (1)

May 7, 2021, 8:09 PM; Updated: May 7, 2021, 10:37 PM

The top lawyers at OpenAI and Space Exploration Technologies Corp. are among the latest to head for the exit at companies backed by Elon Musk.

OpenAI general counsel David Lansky is leaving the company Friday, he told Bloomberg Law. Lansky’s move follows the departure of David Anderman from the general counsel role at SpaceX Exploration Technologies Corp.

Musk, who is preparing to host “Saturday Night Live” tomorrow, is now facing legal leadership transitions at three of the companies that he supports.

Tesla, Inc., which under Musk’s leadership as CEO has churned through top lawyers, just saw its fourth legal chief exit in four years. Alan Prescott was recently hired as chief legal officer at lidar startup Luminar Technologies Inc. after more than a year as Tesla’s acting general counsel and vice president of legal.

Lansky spent four years as the general counsel for OpenAI, the San Francisco-based artificial intelligence laboratory co-founded by Musk. Lansky declined to discuss his interactions with Musk, but said he is excited to see what the company does next.

OpenAI has received backing from other investors after Musk stepped down from its board in February 2018. Musk cited potential conflicts of interest with Tesla, the electric car company he co-founded.

SpaceX, a privately held aerospace manufacturer controlled by Musk, earlier this week pulled off a landing for its newest and biggest rocket. The company was valued at $74 billion earlier this year after a funding round led by Sequoia Capital Ltd.

Anderman’s LinkedIn profile shows he left SpaceX in late 2020. His website bio for Proxima Centauri LLC, a business consultancy that advises technology startups, also lists Anderman as the former top lawyer at SpaceX.

Anderman, who joined SpaceX more than a year ago, declined to discuss his departure when contacted by Bloomberg Law.

SpaceX didn’t respond to a request for comment about Anderman’s replacement, nor did several other lawyers at the company, including acting general counsel David Harris, former general counsel Timothy Hughes, and deputy general counsel Christopher Cardaci and Michael Sagan. Hughes has most recently been senior vice president for global business and government affairs at SpaceX.

As for OpenAI, despite leaving its board, Musk would remain a donor and adviser to it, the company said. Lansky, who is exploring his future options, said he’ll be replaced as OpenAI’s legal chief by Jason Kwon, a former general counsel for startup accelerator Y Combinator. Samuel Altman, who teamed up with Musk to start OpenAI, of which Altman is now CEO, is a former president of Y Combinator.

Kwon has been the top lawyer and chief sales officer for real estate startup ZeroDown since 2019. The former Goodwin Procter associate also previously worked in-house at Khosla Ventures, a Silicon Valley venture capital firm.

Other New Recruits

SpaceX and Tesla, despite the departures of their top lawyers, have also added in-house legal talent in recent months.

Bloomberg Law reported in March on Tesla’s recruitment of deputy general counsel and senior director of compliance David Searle, a former international chief ethics and compliance officer at Walmart Inc. who joined the Palo Alto, Calif.-based automaker as it shifts some of its operations to Texas.

Searle’s hire came as Tesla was hit with an unsealed derivative lawsuit in Delaware Chancery Court accusing it of refusing to hire law department leaders willing to stand up to Musk. Tesla, which reportedly dissolved its in-house public relations team last year, didn’t respond to requests for comment about that lawsuit, Searle’s hire, or any other internal legal moves.

CNBC reported last month that William Berry, a longtime in-house lawyer at Google LLC hired by Tesla late last year as its vice president of litigation, is poised to take over from Prescott as acting legal chief but will not have the title of general counsel.

Berry didn’t respond to a request for comment, nor did Joseph Gruber, a former Hogan Lovells partner hired by Tesla in late 2020 as an Austin, Texas-based vice president of tax, having spent the past decade at pharmaceutical giant Pfizer Inc. Jean Frazier, an attorney and ex-vice president of labor relations at CVS Health Corp., also joined Tesla around that same time as senior director of employee relations.

Valerie Capers Workman, a former North America human resources head and associate general counsel for compliance at Tesla, took over last year as the automaker’s vice president of people. She also didn’t respond to a request for comment about Tesla’s legal additions or its new law department leader.

The company’s online jobs board shows that its looking to hire over a dozen lawyers in California and Texas, as well as overseas in China, Germany, Japan, and Norway. SpaceX is also seeking a regulatory compliance analyst in either Hawthorne, Calif., or Washington, according to an online job posting.

In April, SpaceX hired Walt Disney Co. principal privacy counsel Walter Coursol in Burbank, Calif., as a Hawthorne-based senior counsel for privacy and security.

Also joining SpaceX in Hawthorne late last year were senior counsel Darren Miller and Michael Smith. Miller most recently served as general counsel for patent licensing company Acacia Research Corp., while Smith was vice president of business and legal affairs at now-defunct Kew Media Group Inc., respectively.

Bo Huang, a former senior associate at Polsinelli and patent counsel at Koch Industries Inc., also joined SpaceX last year, state bar records in California show. He is working in Hawthorne as a “starlink spectrum coordination manager,” per his LinkedIn profile.

Bloomberg News has reported that Starlink, a group of satellites launched by SpaceX to provide ultrafast internet service, could be spun off into its own company.

SpaceX saw Caryn Schenewerk, a former senior counsel and senior director for space flight policy, leave last year to become vice president of regulatory and government affairs at Relativity Space Inc., a rocket launch startup.

Relativity, a SpaceX rival, closed a $500 million Series D financing round in November, according to Bloomberg News.

(Updates story throughout with more detail on lawyers leaving and joining various Musk-related companies.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com

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