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Name and title: Laurence Appel, senior vice president and general counsel Age: 42 A food giant: Winn-Dixie Stores Inc., based in Jacksonville, Fla., is one of the nation’s grocery giants, with 113,000 employees (“associates” in company vernacular) and 1,075 stores. Located in 12 states, as well as in Nassau, Bahamas, it ranks 149 on the Fortune 500, with annual sales of $12 billion. Appel’s department: Appel reports to CEO Frank Lazaran and oversees a staff of 30, 13 of whom are attorneys. Five practice areas have been carved out: Real estate and store development; employment (although Winn-Dixie is union-free, this practice group is involved heavily in union relations); the business area (which includes intellectual property, store regulation, and finance, benefits and tax matters); commercial litigation (encompassing nonemployee cases); and the compliance department. Appel maintains a roughly 40% to 60% ratio of in-house versus outside legal work and relies heavily on his old firm, Atlanta’s King & Spalding. New York-based LeBoeuf, Lamb, Greene & MacRae and the Jacksonville office of Atlanta’s Smith, Gambrell & Russell are also called upon for outside counsel. Regional law firms, “though no less significant,” assist in local litigation or employment cases where needed, he said. Appel’s core: “My job, which is more of a regulatory regime than a case law-driven type of practice, requires a lot of interaction with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA regulatory scheme covers a whole host of ingredient, nutritional and labeling requirements and country-of-origin requirements.” Appel also works in tandem with the FDA because Winn-Dixie groceries have pharmacies and sell prescription drugs, which must be operated under strict date and temperature controls. Under the auspices of the FDA, Appel works with vendors and manufacturing facilities “to make sure that the products people take into their homes are always safe and healthy and good for them.” To this end, in addition to working hand-in-hand with the FDA, he teams with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to ensure food quality and to supervise the occasional product recall. Because of concerns with Mad Cow disease, Winn-Dixie’s beef is processed only in USDA-inspected American plants. Appel said that Winn-Dixie also avoids genetically altered “Frankenfoods,” but does require USDA approval for its line of irradiated meat patties. Cases closed: Winn-Dixie, like many other large retailers, has a spate of ongoing legal cases on its plate. It is still experiencing fallout from allegations by 13 Alabama employees, dating back to 1996, who charged the grocery store chain with racial and gender discrimination. The plaintiffs, who asserted that they were denied promotions, received less pay than their white male counterparts and were allegedly subjected to harassment by management, subsequently garnered $33 million in a 1999 settlement. According to its terms, Winn-Dixie entered into a consent decree governing its hiring practices, which are still monitored in a joint effort by the legal, business and human resources groups. Court-ordered reporting is required on the company’s hiring and promotion policies, and race and gender awareness are stressed. As a result of the flap, Winn-Dixie now presents “diversity awards” to supervisors who help women and minorities advance. On the other side of the coin, Winn-Dixie defeated a $50 million, racially-tinged unfair trade practices claim filed in 2001 by Maurice Bessinger, a restaurateur and one-time candidate for the South Carolina governorship. The entrepreneur, one of whose restaurants served as Pat Buchanan’s presidential campaign headquarters, sued Winn-Dixie and several of its competitors, accusing them of boycotting his barbecue sauce in response to his unabashed pro-Confederate views and his insistence on flying the stars and bars at his restaurants. The defendants prevailed on the ground that, in refusing to stock the sauce, they were simply responding to customers’ complaints and objections to racist policies and actions that violated the stores’ standards. Winn-Dixie, though, “in one of the seminal cases in that arena, and one in which we did not prevail,” according to Appel, absorbed a $55 million judgment in Commissioner of IRS v. Winn-Dixie, 113 T.C. 21, Oct. 19, 1999, a landmark case involving corporate-owned life insurance policies on lower-level employees. This so-called janitor’s insurance, which, unbeknownst to the employees themselves, appoints the companies as sole beneficiaries and provides them with tax-free death benefits, has since been phased out by the grocery chain after the IRS refused to listen to its appeal in 2002. Appel also grapples with premises liability issues, which he describes as “a consequence of doing retail business. These claims will pop up from time to time no matter how hard you try.” Some cases are handled by Winn-Dixie’s risk management group, but the GC gets involved in the significant ones. The grocery chain, which operates liquor stores in some locations, and sells beer and wine in others, also is subject to the occasional Dram Shop Act suit for alcohol-related liability. Route to the top: A native of New York, Appel earned a B.A. from the University of Virginia and in 1989, a J.D. from the University of Pennsylvania Law School. He then joined King & Spalding, where he focused on mergers and acquisitions, corporate finance and Securities and Exchange Commission compliance issues. In 1995, Appel moved to Atlanta’s Altman, Kritzer & Levick, again specializing in M&A and corporate finance. Two years later, he was recruited by The Home Depot Inc. to join its strategic development group as senior vice president, legal. In September 2002, Appel assumed his current position with Winn-Dixie, a move he considers “a natural progression from Home Depot. It’s a retail business, with more than 1,000 geographically disbursed stores. They share similar legal issues of general liability, so [it's] not a far jump.” Appels and oranges: Wife: Caren. Children: Molly, 12, Rebecca, 10, and Michael, 6. Last book read: The Avengers, a chronicle of resistance in the Warsaw ghetto during World War II, written by Rich Cohen. Last movie seen: Finding Nemo, “with his children,” he wishes to point out. -Roger Adler

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