Charles James might have one of the toughest GC gigs in the nation. James handles all of the legal affairs of Chevron Corp., which has operations in 187 countries--some of which are located in the most remote and dangerous places on Earth. His job is never boring. In the past year, he and his 300-lawyer legal department engineered a merger with Unocal Corp., oversaw a price-fixing case that ended up in the Supreme Court, managed a toxic tort claim in a court in the Amazon and responded to ongoing allegations that some of
its contract workers in Myanmar (Burma) engaged in human rights violations. On top of that, he has a litigation docket at any given time of about 10,000 cases and an outside counsel budget of about $100 million.
But James, who grew up in Newark, N.J., is used to the pressure. Before joining Chevron in December 2002, he served as assistant attorney general in charge of the DOJ's antitrust division. While there, he brokered the settlement with Microsoft over alleged antitrust violations. He and his boss, John Ashcroft, received a lot of criticism for not taking the case to trial. Earlier in his career, he served as deputy assistant attorney general under President Bush senior, worked as an antitrust attorney at Jones Day and, right out of college, was a lawyer at the FTC, where he helped rewrite the agency's merger guidelines.
When James isn't working, he usually can be found driving around the Bay Area on his Harley or in his steel gray Porsche Carrera 4S.
Q: How did you end up working for the FTC and DOJ?
A: Well I grew up in some pretty rough places and I think that, in a lot of respects, my background lent itself to the rough and tumble of Washington, D.C.
Q: You worked for the DOJ under both Bush senior and Bush junior--which president was more fun to work for?
A: It's hard to compare the administrations. The DOJ in 43's administration was transformed by 9/11. And you know, a lot of things could have been done. Some important things on the regulatory side had to take a back seat to the important, national security issues that 9/11 caused.
Q: After working for the DOJ in the early 1990s, you went back to Jones Day and then returned to the DOJ under the current administration. Why did you go back to the Justice Department?
A: I have never been political in my career. I have very strong conservative views, but I never have worked for a candidate, contributed a lot of money to a candidate, worked on a campaign or anything like that. The administration was confronting this Microsoft case, and I'd like to think they chose me because they were looking for someone with an antitrust background who could bring some professionalism to the case. The administration wanted to transform the case from a political spectacle into an antitrust case.
Q: Why did you settle the case?
A: We were prepared to litigate. We were happy and content to try the case on some sound antitrust principles that were based on the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals' decision. We agreed that we would only settle it if we were satisfied that we were remedying the competitive problems. I certainly was criticized extensively for the settlement, but I take pride in the way that both the District Court on remand and the Court of Appeals reacted to the
approach we took.
Q: Some people have said that Ashcroft is a tough person to work for. True?
A: No. I love John. What I enjoyed about him the most was that he was a very focused on the merits of things and always was behind us when he felt that we were doing the right thing. And I know that he was a very easy target because of his publicly stated religious beliefs.
Q: So why did you leave to join Chevron in 2002?
A: I got the job of a lifetime. I had put a lot of time into public service and this was a wonderful challenge.
Q: What was the state of the legal department when you joined?
A: The chairman of Chevron wanted a world-class legal organization and I don't think he felt he had one. And there were lots of issues in terms of how the law function was organized and operated. He wanted a legal function that would give him a tactical and strategic advantage. And that has been our goal.
Q: What is Chevron's biggest litigation challenge?
A: It is in an arcane area called royalty and severance litigation. Over hundreds of years that people have been engaged in oil exploration and production, you had royalty arrangements with private landowners. And you have royalty arrangements with the Minerals Management Service and the state governments that own the properties on which we produce oil. These royalty agreements are contracts, and over time things happen that affect the interpretation of those contracts.
Q: What is your proudest accomplishment at Chevron?
A: It's the 8?? 1/2 0 Supreme Court victory in the Dagher case. It was quite an accomplishment to get that case to the Supreme Court. [The Supreme Court ruled in 2006 that it was not a violation of antitrust laws for Texaco Inc. and Shell Oil Co. to form a joint venture that charged a unified price for gas in the Western U.S.]
Q: Do you think you have one of the toughest GC jobs?
A: I wouldn't say that. I wouldn't trade the things I have to deal with for Microsoft's ongoing battles with the EU or for the Vioxx litigation.
Q: Would you ever go back to a law firm?
A: I would. But I hope this is my last job. I guess I better not mess up. Sometimes I do miss being the player rather than the coach.
Q: I heard you like Harleys.
A: I love motorcycles. I own a big old-school Harley cruiser [a Road King Custom] and a chopped Victory with a really big engine, long forks and that kind of stuff. And then my daughter and girlfriend share a souped-up Honda that I've been building for them. I was interested in motorcycles when I was in college, and I scared myself a little bit and put them down. For a while my passion was sports cars. But since moving out to California, I fell back in love with motorcycles.
Q: Are you still interested in sports cars or just motorcycles?
A: I own a Porsche Carrera 4S. I think it is my 13th Porsche. I grew up around the corner from an industrial park that had a Porsche-sponsored factory race team and so I grew up looking over the fence and standing around when they were chewing up this Trans Am car, and I just got the automotive thing in my blood.