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Tesla’s New Legal Chief Confirms Role in Musk-Twitter Filing

Sept. 20, 2022, 8:01 PM

Dinna Eskin confirmed she runs Tesla lnc.‘s legal department after the previous law chief stepped down from the role more than a month ago.

“I have managerial responsibility over Tesla’s legal department, have sole authority to act in a leadership capacity over that department, and continue to serve in those roles through the present,” Eskin said in an affidavit this month.

Eskin submitted the affidavit as part of a defense against a Twitter Inc. lawsuit targeting Elon Musk. The suit aims to compel the world’s wealthiest man to move forward with the acquisition of Twitter, which he announced in April and aborted in July.

PODCAST: Why Can’t Tesla Keep Its Top Lawyer?

At least four lawyers, including Eskin, have held legal group leadership positions at Tesla since late 2019, when the last person to hold the title of general counsel, Jonathan Chang, left the electric automaker.

David Searle, a former federal prosecutor who joined Tesla last year and became acting legal head, left the role Eskin has assumed, Bloomberg reported last month, citing three people familiar with the matter.

Eskin, Tesla, and the company’s director of human resources Allison Arebalo didn’t respond to requests for comment.

Tesla has promoted Eskin several times during her more than five years at the Austin, Texas-based company, most recently from deputy general counsel to senior director, according to the affidavit.

Among her responsibilities are to ensure compliance with Tesla policies related to its employee email, according to the document. Only Eskin has the authority to grant permission for access to Musk’s emails at the company, she said.

Twitter has unsuccessfully sought to gain access to Musk’s emails at Tesla. A judge in Delaware’s Court of Chancery, where Musk and Twitter are set to go to trial next month, ruled last week that Musk’s emails are protected by attorney-client privilege.

No General Counsel

Disgruntled investors upset about corporate governance at the company have criticized Tesla’s lack of a full-time general counsel.

Eskin’s affidavit acknowledged the dearth of a general counsel at Tesla, where Musk—the company’s so-called technoking—has resisted traditional C-suite titles.

“There is no Tesla employee with the formal title of ‘General Counsel,’ and my role as senior director of legal is functionally equivalent to the role commonly known as ‘General Counsel,’” Eskin said. “It is well understood within Tesla that any references in Tesla’s internal documents to ‘General Counsel’ now refer to the senior director of legal.”

Tesla hired Eskin as a senior commercial counsel in 2017 after she served as an associate vice president for policy and regulatory affairs at the State University of New York Polytechnic Institute in Albany, N.Y.

The nonprofit Research Foundation for the State University of New York paid her for her role as the public university’s top lawyer, according to Albany’s Times-Union.

Public payroll records in New York show that Eskin earned $78,500 in fiscal 2017; nearly $120,000 in fiscal 2016; and almost $108,000 in fiscal 2015.

Prior to joining the Polytechnic Institute in 2011, Eskin spent five years in private practice at three law firms in the area in and around Albany, mostly handling personal injury, product liability, medical malpractice, and insurance litigation.

Tesla has sought to recruit new talent in recent months following a series of exits.

Recent additions include a new top corporate and securities lawyer in Derek Windham, as well as hires for an in-house litigation team being assembled by Musk.

Tesla also recently brought on a new head of global compliance in Michael Munro, a former partner at Norton Rose Fulbright who previously was compliance chief for Odebrecht SA. The Brazilian construction and engineering company went bankrupt in 2019 and restructured its operations following a corruption scandal.

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

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