The Washington Nationals, winners of the 2019 World Series, have a new top lawyer as they prepare to defend their title sometime this summer should baseball resume play following a coronavirus-related delay.
Deputy general counsel Betsy Philpott has taken over as vice president and general counsel of the team following the departure earlier this month of longtime predecessor Damon Jones, now of counsel in Covington & Burling’s sports practice in Washington.
“Betsy is a terrific lawyer and friend, and she is universally respected in the Nationals front office and around the game,” said Jones, a former Williams & Connolly associate. “We had a great run together, and I could not be more excited for her and the team. The future is bright in Washington.”
Alan Gottlieb, COO of Nationals’ owner Lerner Sports Group, said in a statement that “Betsy’s legal expertise and clear-eyed advice are key ingredients to our success as an organization.” Gwendolyn Lockman, a former coordinator of the Nationals’ in-house legal department, told Bloomberg Law in an email that Philpott is a “world-class general counsel for a World Series champion team.”
Philpott, who didn’t respond to a request for comment, joined the Nationals in 2014 as a legal affairs specialist, a role she held for nearly two years before being promoted to counsel. Philpott became deputy general counsel in early 2018. She now leads a small in-house staff that includes associate counsel Nicolette Miranda, whose LinkedIn profile shows she was hired by the Nationals in September, having previously been a legal intern for the ball club and a summer associate at Foley & Lardner.
Jones, a Harvard Law School graduate and former college baseball player, was the first in-house lawyer hired by the Nationals when he came aboard as general counsel in 2007. At the time, the team was playing at Robert F. Kennedy Memorial Stadium, and Jones recalled taking down a sheet of paper taped to the door of his new office in the aging complex that read: “Future Nationals Legal Department.”
Jones is not the first Nationals executive to leave baseball for Big Law.
In 2017, former assistant general manager and director of baseball operations and analytics Adam Cromie put a professional baseball career behind him to become an associate in the corporate group at Jones Day in Pittsburgh.
The Nationals have been owned since 2006 by the Lerner family, which paid $450 million to purchase the franchise formerly known as the Montreal Expos from Major League Baseball. Proskauer Rose took the lead on that deal for the Lerners, whose billionaire patriarch and Rockville, Md.-based real estate developer Theodore “Ted” Lerner ceded control of the team in 2018 to his son, Mark Lerner. The latter is the brother-in-law of attorney Robert Tanenbaum, who is also part of the Nationals ownership group.
Squire Patton Boggs partner and former Transportation Secretary Rodney Slater, Lerner Enterprises executive vice president Arthur Fuccillo, and Harris Schwalb, a former associate at Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom who co-founded real estate investment and development firm Streetscape Partners LLC, are other legal members of an ownership group that helped bring baseball back to the nation’s capital, which had been without an MLB team since the Washington Senators fled to Texas in 1971.
In an odd twist of fate, the lawyer partly responsible for brokering that move, late Senators general counsel Stanley Bregman, is also the grandfather of Houston Astros star Alex Bregman. The younger Bregman, who signed a six-year, $100 million contract extension with Houston in March 2019, was in the on-deck circle last Halloween when the Nationals defeated the Astros in Game 7 of the World Series.
The Nationals aren’t the only MLB team bulking up their in-house legal staff ahead of the 2020 season.
The Cleveland Indians hired former Paul, Weiss, Rifkind, Wharton & Garrison associate Maxwell Kosman in March to serve as deputy counsel, according to the team’s website. Kosman will assist longtime Indians general counsel Joseph Znidarsic, a partner at Ohio’s Thrasher Dinsmore & Dolan, a law firm whose former managing partner is principal Indians owner Lawrence Dolan.
Earlier this year, the Oakland Athletics hired Hemmy So, a former associate general counsel for blockchain at Facebook Inc., as an associate general counsel under new in-house legal chief D’Lonra Ellis, who joined the team last summer. So replaced Chidi Oteh, who left the A’s in late 2019 to become an associate in Ropes & Gray’s asset management and sports groups in San Francisco.
And the Texas Rangers, who were prepared to debut a new 40,300-seat ballpark near Dallas until the Covid-19 pandemic pushed back that opening indefinitely, hired former DLA Piper associate Erin Kearney in January as a senior corporate counsel. The Rangers, whose general counsel is Katherine Pothier, are controlled by an ownership group led by chairman and COO Neil Leibman, an energy executive who began his career as an in-house lawyer at what is now Exxon Mobil Corp.