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Tesla Legal Head Who Led Purchasing Probe Has Left Automaker (1)

Aug. 17, 2022, 4:47 PMUpdated: Aug. 17, 2022, 10:31 PM

Tesla Inc. has parted ways with the law department leader heading an internal inquiry into purchase orders at the electric vehicle maker.

David Searle left his position as Tesla’s head of legal less than a month ago, according to three people familiar with the matter. Dinna Eskin, a deputy general counsel at the company, has taken over the role, the people said.

Searle had been overseeing an internal investigation involving Omead Afshar, a key lieutenant to Tesla’s top executive, Elon Musk, who was tasked with navigating a tangled global supply chain to obtain critical construction materials. The probe over a hard-to-get glass order has led to some Tesla employees being fired, according to Bloomberg.

Tesla, in a Wednesday tweet from its verified account, denied that Searle has left the company, but didn’t elaborate on his current role. Musk, Searle, Eskin and Tesla human resources head Allison Arebalo didn’t respond to separate requests for comment prior to this story’s publication and after the company’s tweet.

Searle is a former federal prosecutor who was initially hired by Tesla in 2021 to be its head of compliance. His most recent title at Tesla was acting head of legal and corporate secretary.

The legal chief change comes as Musk copes with a lawsuit filed against him last month by Twitter Inc. for backing out of his $44 billion takeover bid for the social media company. A trial in that dispute has been scheduled for mid-October.

Musk, the world’s wealthiest person with an estimated $267 billion fortune, sold off nearly $7 billion in Tesla stock last week as his legal fight with Twitter escalated.

Eskin joined Tesla as a senior commercial counsel in 2017 after serving as an associate vice president for policy and regulatory affairs at the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute in Albany, N.Y. She also worked for a pair of nonprofits affiliated with the school after spending four years in private practice.

Searle stepped up late last year into Tesla’s top in-house legal position after its former vice president of legal, William Berry, left the company. Berry later took a job as general counsel for cloud-based security company Verkada Inc.

Searle’s departure occurred prior to Tesla’s annual shareholders meeting Aug. 4 at the company’s new corporate headquarters in Austin, Texas. Tesla during the meeting announced plans for a stock split as several activist shareholders voiced their concerns about the company’s corporate governance practices.

Tesla has had at least four top lawyers since its last full-time general counsel Jonathan Chang departed in December 2019.

The company recently hired Derek Windham, a former corporate governance expert at Hewlett Packard Enterprise Co., as a senior director and deputy general counsel for corporate and securities. The automaker also recruited Michael Munro, a veteran oil and gas industry lawyer, to be its new head of compliance.

—With assistance from Sean O’Kane and Dana Hull

(Adds response from Tesla via social media in third paragraph.)

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com; Edward Ludlow in San Francisco at eludlow2@bloomberg.net

To contact the editors responsible for this story: Chris Opfer at copfer@bloomberglaw.com; John Hughes at jhughes@bloombergindustry.com; Crayton Harrison at tharrison5@bloomberg.net