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6 notable GCs in the news

General counsel sound off about voter ID laws, X-rated litter, work visas and more


“It’s never OK to share information in an internal memo EVEN if the company issues public communications about the same subject. We will fire employees who leak company confidential information and we will avail ourselves of all other legal remedies to protect those confidences.”

--Ron Bell, GC of Yahoo! Inc., in a confidential memo to employees

Apparently angry that company employees had leaked yet another memo to the press, Bell issued a cautionary memo threatening leakers with firing and possible criminal prosecution. But his latest warnings clearly didn’t have the desired effect on all employees, one of whom promptly leaked the communication to the media. The tech giant’s battle against leaks has been going on for years: In 2009, ousted CEO Carol Bartz reportedly proposed a $1,000 bounty for information about the identity of workers sharing information with the press. 



"It's a problem that's approaching dimensions of a genuine crisis."

--Brad Smith, general counsel of Microsoft Corp.

In this economy, you’re more likely to hear people complaining about a shortage of jobs than a shortage of workers. But that doesn’t hold true in the tech world, where companies are producing twice as many jobs as there are qualified workers to fill them. To make matters worse, Smith said, there is currently a 65,000 annual cap on H-1B work visas, limiting the number of highly skilled overseas workers that employers can hire.

Microsoft proposed the following solution: Release 20,000 green cards and allow companies to pay $10,000 for each additional visa reserved for workers in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) fields. Then reinvest the fees in STEM education and job training programs for U.S. students and workers.


“If someone takes some material, regardless of what it is, and then walks down the street and decides to drop it, that’s the person who is littering. That’s the person that is responsible, not the person who gave it to them originally.”

--Allen Lichtenstein, general counsel of the Nevada American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU)

There are plenty of sinners in Las Vegas, but the city’s government is going after more garden-variety wrongdoers: litterbugs. Tourists wandering the city’s famed Strip are often approached by handbillers, who hand out cards advertising scantily clad exotic dancers. Although some tourists throw the X-rated brochures in the trash, others simply drop them on the sidewalk. In an attempt to solve the resulting litter problem, Las Vegas officials have passed a law requiring handbillers to pick up debris within a 25-foot radius on the sidewalk. The state’s ACLU, though, says that the measure violates the First Amendment. Lichtenstein also predicted that police may find it difficult to enforce the law, as it requires handbillers to pick up the litter every 15 minutes.


“We were not fooling ourselves into believing there would be no incidents.”

--Jeh Johnson, general counsel of the Department of Defense (DOD)

Just over a year ago, the DOD made headlines by repealing its long-standing, “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy, intended to allow homosexual men and women to serve in the military, provided that they did not disclose their sexual orientation. Many service members and DOD officials said that the repeal’s first anniversary passed without controversy, although Johnson noted that harassment against gay service members is not yet a thing of the past.


“Judge Simpson should have held strong to his prior convictions and the rule of law, rather than bending to the race baiters and fraud enablers. The ACLU’s case relied on flawed data, racial rhetoric and plaintiffs who should have been excused since they can all obtain photo IDs.”

--Justin Danhoff, general counsel of the National Center for Public Policy Research, a conservative think tank

The national debate over voter ID laws has come to a head in Pennsylvania, where a judge recently blocked such a measure from taking effect before the November presidential election. Proponents of the law, which would require would-be voters to show a photo ID before casting a ballot, say that it will cut down on voter fraud. But detractors argue that the requirement would primarily affect certain groups, such as poor voters, minorities and young adults.

In his ruling, Judge Robert Simpson, who had previously rejected an attempt to block the law, said that he was “not convinced…that there will be no voter disenfranchisement” if officials had to implement it in time for the upcoming elections.  


“For 700 years in Anglo-American law, the use of property—collateral—to secure a loan was a contract that would be honored.”

--Alfred Pollard, general counsel of the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA)

With thousands of homes in foreclosure across the country, some local governments are considering proposals that would allow them to seize underwater mortgages using the power of eminent domain. Lawmakers in Chicago and San Bernardino County, Calif. have reportedly weighed such measures, arguing that foreclosures are shrinking their tax bases.

But opponents of the tactic, including the FHFA, argue that such seizures would increase uncertainty for mortgage lenders and harm federal mortgage lenders, who own a stake in the home loans. U.S. Rep. John Campbell has introduced a bill that would prevent the country’s top four mortgage lenders, including Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, from purchasing loans in counties or cities that use eminent domain.

Alanna Byrne

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