Legal ethics expert sees previous dysfunction in GM legal department

Attorneys respond to question by Senator on why General Motors’ general counsel Michael Millikin was not fired.

With recent questions raised by Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) as to why General Motors’ general counsel Michael Millikin was not fired in response to the company’s handling of ignition system defects, her statement has led to comments from several attorneys.

Lester Brickman, a legal ethics expert at Cardozo Law School, where he also has been acting dean, said in a statement that it was “apparent” that GM’s legal department was “dysfunctional” under Thomas Gottschalk [general counsel at GM between 1994 and 2006, who is now of-counsel at Kirkland & Ellis] and “his successors as GM's GC.”

When asked to comment on recent events, an attorney representing some plaintiffs in the GM case, Adam Levitt, a director at Grant & Eisenhofer P.A. and the head of that firm’s Consumer Practice Group, said, “While it’s clearly extraordinary for a senator to suggest steps that GM should be taking, by any estimation the GM key system defect problem and concomitant concealment is an extraordinary situation in almost every respect.” 

“It is thus unsurprising that senators – demonstrating their ongoing and increasing frustration with GM’s double-talk and persistent efforts to cabin off or otherwise attempt to evade liability for the true scope of its wrongdoing – are demanding meaningful and decisive action,” Levitt said. “The Senate and the American public are entitled to more accountability from GM than that company is presently offering.  They’re also entitled to know why GM believes it can recall millions more cars than were included in its initial recalls – with all subsequent recalls arising out of the same alleged key system defect underlying the initial recalls – yet refuse to accept responsibility for injuries resulting from accidents in those later-recalled cars, and continue to persist in its effort to avoid economic damages relating to all of the cars affected by the key system defect altogether.”

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Ed Silverstein

Ed Silverstein is a veteran writer and editor for magazines, websites and newspapers. A graduate of Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, he has won several...

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