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Robert Lemle isn’t a member of the Dolan family, the controlling shareholders of Cablevision Systems Corp. But when it comes to his compensation and responsibilities, the top in-house lawyer is treated like a favorite son. Last year Bethpage, N.Y.-based Cablevision paid Lemle a $1 million salary, generously topped by a $1.9 million bonus, the second-highest paid general counsel on Corporate Counsel‘s compensation survey list when those two measures are combined. Lemle, 49, also cashed in $9.9 million in options last year. With the big money came big duties. In 2001 Lemle, in his 20th year with the cable operator, added vice chairman to his current holdings of general counsel, secretary and director. The new position puts the exec at the center of the company’s business strategy, but not at the expense of abandoning his legal management duties. Cablevision will need Lemle to steer it through its current battle with the Yes Network, which this spring alleged that the company had violated antitrust laws when it refused to carry Yankees games on its cable systems. Cablevision denies the charges. Lemle, who had a strong interest in entertainment growing up on Manhattan’s Upper East Side, didn’t waste time getting to where he wanted to be. Back in the late 1970s, as a young associate at the elite Cravath, Swaine & Moore in New York, Lemle asked to do work for Cablevision, then a small company and, as Lemle describes it, because of its size “not a typical Cravath client.” The work paid off in 1981, when a Cravath partner went to work for the business as an executive. Months later he asked Lemle to run the company’s legal department of two. Lemle was 29. “I knew joining with Chuck [Dolan] — a brilliant entrepreneur — that this company was going to disappear or be a huge success,” recalls Lemle. Two decades later, the GC’s decision is still producing dividends.

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