Lawsuit-plagued clean-tech darling Tesla Motors Inc. has hired a new general counsel.
Jonathan Sobel, the one-time Yahoo GC, will take the reins from Craig Harding later this month, Tesla announced Tuesday.
The move comes as the electric carmaker continues to gain prominence. It also comes as Tesla has suffered legal setbacks and is facing a number of lawsuits, including a bitter spat between headstrong CEO Elon Musk and ousted co-founder Martin Eberhard.
Veteran legal recruiter Robert Major said Sobel, currently an executive at SourceForge Inc., an open-source and social media company, is the right man for the job.
"[Sobel's] a good guy and an excellent lawyer," said the Major, Lindsey & Africa recruiter, who was not involved in the match. "He's been around the block several times, dealing with different management styles, products, competitive forces and egos -- and has navigated those waters very well."
Harding will remain with the company in an as-yet undetermined capacity, Tesla spokeswoman Rachel Konrad said.
Under Harding's watch, Tesla sued rival Fisker Automotive Inc. for trade-secret theft. But the suit was tossed by an arbitrator who called Tesla's claims "baseless and neither brought nor pursued in good faith."
Tesla is facing lawsuits from ex-employees who claim they were slandered when the company told the San Jose Mercury News they were fired for being "bottom-performers." So far, Tesla has had the upper hand in the case.
Last month, Tesla agreed to go to mediation in another suit brought by co-founder Eberhard, who claims Musk falsely anointed himself the Tesla founder and unfairly blamed Eberhard for the car company's infamous production delays. Tesla failed to get the suit dismissed on an anti-SLAPP motion.
Konrad said that the new hire wasn't a reflection on Harding's performance.
"I would not presume that Jon's hiring says anything about Craig," Konrad said via e-mail. "Jon is a superstar attorney with a skill set unmatched in the Valley -- that's why Tesla hired him."
Sobel worked at Yahoo when it was still the toast of Silicon Valley, from 1998 to 2003. He ascended to general counsel, holding the post for two years before leaving to become a partner at Folger Levin & Kahn in San Francisco.
In 2005, Sobel moved over to the business side to become a senior VP at CBS Interactive. And in 2007, he joined SourceForge, which among other things runs the popular tech-geek site Slashdot. One of its loyal readers is none other than Tesla CEO Musk, according to a company press release.
"Jon really understands how to solve the challenges of a fast-growing, international consumer technology company. His high-tech background serves as a good complement to the auto industry expertise on the Tesla team," Musk said. "I particularly liked that he managed Slashdot, one of my favorite sites."
Sobel, who was not available for comment Wednesday, said in a press release that he was happy to join the car company, which recently landed a $465 million loan from the government.
"Tesla already serves as an industrywide example that an automaker can create a successful business model while being socially and environmentally responsible," Sobel said. "I'm thrilled to be joining such an exciting company at the beginning of its rapid growth phase."