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Backdating looked like the kiss of death for general counsel whose companies were caught up in the scandal. But Stuart Nichols has defied the dire predictions. The former KLA-Tencor general counsel, who stepped down in late 2006 after the company admitted to improperly backdating stock options, has landed the top legal spot at MIPS Technologies Inc., the company announced last week. Observers say Nichols, 47, may be the first general counsel to land a new job after leaving a company seriously tainted by backdating. “That’ll make a lot of people real happy in Silicon Valley, to see evidence that there’s life after backdating,” said Marty Africa, a longtime legal recruiter who now works for Hodge Niederer Cariani Lindsey. Not typical But that’s not to say that Nichols is necessarily the typical backdating casualty. Though KLA’s former Chief Executive Kenneth Schroeder and previous General Counsel Lisa Berry have been charged by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission for their alleged roles in the scandal, Nichols has not. And in a much-publicized 2001 e-mail exchange, the SEC says, Nichols warned Schroeder about the dangers of backdating. That earned Nichols, who was general counsel at the San Jose, Calif., semiconductor equipment maker from 2000 to 2006, an e-mailed scolding from Schroeder, according to the SEC’s complaint. “Help me, don’t just tell me how to follow a strict interpretation of rules,” Schroeder wrote. “I need a ‘war time counselor,’ not someone who can recite page and verse.” In January, KLA restated its earnings to the tune of $370 million to account for options misdated between 1997 and 2002. In July, it settled with the SEC without paying fines. Jodi Guilbault, a spokeswoman for MIPS, said her company was aware of KLA’s backdating woes but wasn’t dissuaded from hiring Nichols. “We’re definitely aware that a lot of companies go through this,” Guilbault said last week. “We certainly did our research and feel very comfortable and fortunate to bring Stuart on as our general counsel,” Guilbault added. Martin Collins, general counsel of Novellus Systems Inc., a San Jose provider of chip-making equipment, observed that good research would’ve been to Nichols’ benefit. “The published facts about the e-mail exchange probably helped,” he said. MIPS has had its own backdating troubles. Earlier this year, it took a $32 million charge after an internal investigation revealed that the Mountain View, Calif., company had misdated options. MIPS, however, escaped any government investigation, Guilbault said. Nichols replaces Kate Rundle, who resigned as MIPS’ GC in May. Rundle had been given the top legal spot just a year earlier. MIPS said in a separation agreement that, other than being named with other executives in a derivative suit, the company knows of no investigations relating to Rundle. Nichols was not available for comment, but Novellus’ Collins said MIPS deserves some praise for giving Nichols a job. “I think it’s terrific news for Stuart, and I think credit is due to the MIPS management team and board of directors for evaluating the individual as opposed to the circumstances at KLA,” Collins said. “For a public company to take a chance,” said Anna Marie Armstrong, a legal recruiter with Mlegal Consulting, “it says maybe all of these GCs aren’t going to be marred by this.”

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