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Turner’s Law Department Evolves After AT&T Deal

Jan. 17, 2020, 10:45 AM

AT&T Inc.'s takeover of Time Warner Inc. has led to a wave of buyouts, promotions and exits among lawyers within what was once Ted Turner’s media empire.

The departed include Louise “Weezie” Sams, a former executive vice president and general counsel at Atlanta-based Turner Broadcasting Systems Inc.

Sams isn’t retiring altogether: She joined the board of directors of CoStar Group Inc., the property intelligence and commercial real estate listing service announced last week.

Turner’s media empire, which included cable networks like CNN, TBS, and the Cartoon Network, has now been divided up within separate units of New York-based Warner Media LLC. The Turner name is gradually disappearing, having been removed from the main building on its Atlanta campus in October, right when Sams left the company.

With Turner nearly gone—an exception is Warner Media’s Turner Sports, now helmed by a lawyer—there was no need to replace Sams as the general counsel, a role she held since 2000. In an email to Bloomberg Law, Sams confirmed her recent retirement and “terrific experience” at Turner, adding that she was pleased to be joining CoStar’s board as she considers the next steps in her career.

Lawyers working within Turner’s new Warner Media structure are finding their way in new roles and reporting lines following AT&T’s $85 billion acquisition, a handful of current and former Turner employees told Bloomberg Law on the condition of anonymity.

“The joke around here is you start off each email with, ‘I’m not sure if you’re the right person for this,’” one lawyer said when asked about the reorganization. “They told us last summer that this is the plan we’re rolling out, but it will change.”

New Operations

The post-takeover Warner Media is comprised of four business units, each of which have a general counsel that reports to James Meza in New York. Meza is the law department’s overall leader as executive vice president and general counsel.

Meza, a former assistant general counsel at AT&T who joined the company in 2000 after working at the law firm Jones Walker, led the telecommunications giant’s defense against the Justice Department’s ultimately unsuccessful bid to scuttle the Time Warner deal. Meza did not respond to a request for comment about the reorganization, nor did media representatives for Warner Media and Turner.

The four in-house legal chiefs reporting directly to Meza include:

  • John Rogovin, the Burbank, Calif.-based general counsel of Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc., made up of its namesake film studio and others like Castle Rock Entertainment, DC Films, and New Line Cinema, as well as the Cartoon Network and Turner Classic Movies
  • Jacqueline Hayes, a Burbank-based general counsel of WarnerMedia Entertainment, which includes TBS, HBO, and Cinemax
  • David Vigilante, the Atlanta-based general counsel of WarnerMedia News & Sports, home to CNN, Turner Sports, and Bleacher Report
  • Melissa Roper Barnett, the New York-based general counsel of WarnerMedia Sales & International, a group of distribution businesses

Reporting to those general counsel are specialized in-house lawyers advising on corporate, employment, intellectual property, and litigation matters across all of Warner Media, explained those familiar with the structure.

Some lawyers have ascended into larger roles as part of the transition.

Tina Shah, a former assistant general counsel, took over last summer as executive vice president and general manager of Turner Sports. Joining her as the division’s top lawyer is vice president and associate general counsel Kevin Glidewell. Also promoted late last year was K. Michelle Hylton, who is now assistant general counsel and chief compliance officer for WarnerMedia News & Sports.

In-House Exits

Several prominent Turner attorneys took advantage of a company-wide buyout that offered voluntary severance packages to employees 55 and older who had been with the company for more than 10 years, according to two lawyers familiar with the reorganization.

Other lawyers leaving Turner’s Atlanta headquarters include assistant general counsel Chad Almy, senior counsel Patricia Butler, privacy counsel Laura Gardner, assistant general counsel and lead privacy lawyer Aruna Sharma, and assistant general counsel Lee Williams, according to those familiar with the turnover in recent months.

Melissa Siegelman also recently left her role as senior counsel for technology litigation and patent policy to become deputy general counsel at Veeam Software Corp., an Alpharetta, Ga.-based cloud software company sold for $5 billion this month to the investment fund Insight Partners.

Cheryle D’Ree Cooper, a senior counsel for compliance and employment in Atlanta, jumped to travel technology startup Travelport LLC in October as senior director of legal. Her departure was preceded by assistant general counsel Todd Williams, who left Turner to become an IP counsel at San Francisco-based technology company Stripe Inc. Tamera Hylton also left to reunite with former Turner colleague James “Kim” Kimmell Jr. at E.W. Scripps Co.-owned Katz Networks, where she is now a deputy general counsel.

The Atlanta exits also involved lawyers in business-side roles. F. Valerie Rusk, a former assistant general counsel who spent nearly the past five years as vice president of business operations and administration at CNN International, left the company in September.

Most of the lawyers in legacy parent company Time Warner’s small legal group in New York, which was led by longtime general counsel Paul Cappuccio, have also departed, said two lawyers familiar with the matter.

Cappuccio, who securities filings show left Time Warner with a $26.7 million severance package, last year became vice chairman of the DTX Co., a direct-to-consumer marketing firm in New York started by Tim Armstrong, a former CEO of AOL Inc. and Oath Inc.

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

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com

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