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After 110 years in business, Whitehall Jewelers, Inc., has hired its first general counsel, Jean FitzSimon. On June 15 the 54-year-old left New York � based Bridge Associates, Inc., a turnaround, crisis, and interim management boutique where she was principal and GC, to join the Chicago-based specialty retailer. She should feel right at home at Whitehall. The company’s decision to hire a GC comes in the wake of some tough times. Whitehall lost its 54-year-old chairman and CEO, Hugh Patinkin, in March to a heart attack. It endured weak holiday sales. And last year, it was investigated by the Securities and Exchange Commission and the U.S. attorney’s office for the Eastern District of New York for allegedly helping a supplier overstate its accounts receivables. Whitehall settled with the government in September after its former CFO and two others pleaded guilty to bank and wire fraud conspiracy charges. Outside counsel are handling shareholder derivative suits. FitzSimon’s first priority is to identify work that can be done in-house so Whitehall isn’t “so wholly dependent on outside counsel.” The company, which runs a sprawling empire of 386 stores in 38 states, has grown rapidly in the past 20 years. Controlling its legal budget ranks as a top priority. Even so, Whitehall has no plans to hire more in-house lawyers immediately, and FitzSimon says she’s on the lookout for a first-rate paralegal. The prospect of working without a staff of specialists doesn’t bother FitzSimon. Her bankruptcy background exposed her to myriad areas of the law. She began her career at the U.S. Department of Justice, staying for ten years, and then spent 11 years in private bankruptcy practice. From 1998 to 2002 she was vice president and chief compliance officer at Sears Roebuck & Co. FitzSimon chairs the American Bar Association Committee on Corporate Compliance. She was a director of the American Bankruptcy Institute from 1999 to 2003.

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