Tesla
Inc.


TSLA 0.93%

is replacing its general counsel with a seasoned trial lawyer who has decades of experience defending corporate interests.

Todd Maron, Tesla’s top lawyer and a confidant of Chief Executive Elon Musk, is departing the company after more than five years, the company said in response to questions from The Wall Street Journal. He will stay on to help with the transition until January.

The Silicon Valley electric-car maker plans to replace Mr. Maron with Washington, D.C., trial lawyer Dane Butswinkas, who is chairman of Williams & Connolly. He will report directly to Mr. Musk.

A Tesla spokesman confirmed the plan and issued a statement on Mr. Butswinkas’s behalf: “Tesla’s mission is bigger than Tesla—one that is critical to the future of our planet.”

“It’s hard to identify a mission more timely, more essential, or more worth fighting for,” he said in the statement.

A representative for the law firm didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment. Mr. Butswinkas also didn’t immediately respond.

“Being part of Tesla for the last five years has been the highlight of my career,“ Mr. Maron said in an email. ”Tesla has been like family to me, and I am extremely grateful to Elon, the board, the executive team, and everyone at Tesla for allowing me to play a part in this incredible company.”

Tesla didn’t gave a reason for his departure, although the company said planning for the transition began in July.

Mr. Maron joins a long list of senior executives to depart from Tesla in the past couple of years as the company worked under increasing strain to roll out its Model 3—a lower-cost sedan that Mr. Musk hopes will transform Tesla from a niche luxury brand into a mainstream player. Key leaders in engineering, sales, human resources and public relations have departed.

Mr. Maron’s departure is especially notable, however, given his longstanding relationship with Mr. Musk on some of the top executive’s most sensitive topics. The lawyer joined Tesla in 2013 after working as Mr. Musk’s divorce lawyer and rose to the general counsel position in 2014.

Tesla hired Mr. Butswinkas as outside counsel this year, as the auto maker dealt with the aftermath of Mr. Musk’s Aug. 7 tweets announcing he was considering taking the company private and that he had secured funding for such a transaction.

The Securities and Exchange Commission later claimed Mr. Musk improperly misled investors and sought to remove him as an officer or director of any publicly traded company. Ultimately, the SEC and Mr. Musk reached a settlement in the case. As a result, he had to step down as chairman of Tesla and not seek that position for three years. He remains CEO and a board director.

Tesla also agreed to put in place new oversight of Mr. Musk’s communications on topics that could be material and to appoint to two new independent board members by the end of the year.

Several lawsuits have been filed by shareholders over the Aug. 7 tweets, according to the company’s regulatory filings. Tesla has said the claims lack merit.

Tesla also faces scrutiny over its plans for Model 3 production. The Federal Bureau of Investigation has been examining whether Tesla misstated information about production of the Model 3 going back to early 2017, the Journal reported in October.

Mr. Butswinkas joins Tesla after a long career at Williams & Connolly. He joined the prestigious law firm in 1989 after graduating from the University of Virginia School of Law and has had a storied career working on complex civil and criminal matters.

During his tenure, Mr. Maron was especially aggressive in trying to fight state governments around the U.S. that opposed Tesla from selling directly to consumers rather than through third-party franchise dealerships.

Before Mr. Maron, Tesla went through three general counsels from 2009 to 2012, then had no one in the spot for more than two years.

In November, Phil Rothenberg, Tesla’s vice president of legal, who had experience at the SEC, departed to become the general counsel at a startup called Sonder Inc., a platform to rent out apartments to travelers online.

Write to Tim Higgins at Tim.Higgins@WSJ.com and Rebecca Ballhaus at Rebecca.Ballhaus@wsj.com



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