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Video game publisher Electronic Arts Inc. has reorganized the management of its in-house legal department, following the recent retirement of longtime General Counsel Ruth Kennedy. The Redwood City, Calif., company promoted two insiders to lead its legal team, tapping Stephen Bene to serve as acting general counsel and appointing Joel Linzner to the newly created post of senior vice president of business and legal affairs. The moves come as EA’s senior management team undergoes some change. At the beginning of April, President John Riccitiello unexpectedly resigned to join a private equity fund. Kennedy, who served as executive vice president, general counsel and secretary, announced her plans to retire in November, but stayed on until the company found her replacement. Electronic Arts initially launched a search to replace Kennedy with another executive vice president-level general counsel. Ultimately, the company opted to divide the job into two lower-ranking positions, elevating a pair of its in-house attorneys to fill the two slots. As acting general counsel, Bene will report to Linzner. Linzner, a former San Francisco litigator, joined Electronic Arts in 1997, heading up its licensing department. For the past several years, he has shed his legal duties, working as the company’s VP of worldwide business affairs. Linzner reactivated his State Bar membership at the end of April. Electronic Arts spokesman Jeff Brown did not return calls for comment. It’s unlikely that the management change will have a big impact on EA’s use of outside counsel, which has long been tied to Fenwick & West for corporate matters. Bene is a former Fenwick associate, and EA’s vice president of mergers and acquisitions, Mark Stevens, rejoined Fenwick as a partner last year. EA, which posted nearly $3 billion in revenues in fiscal 2004, generates a wide variety of legal work, including licensing deals with the celebrity sports figures that star in many of its video game titles. “They have some of the most sophisticated licensing, trademark, copyright lawyers in the world in that group,” said Stevens. “This is effectively the firepower of a Hollywood studio sitting in Silicon Valley, and it’s a competitive advantage for Electronic Arts.” The poaching of computer programming talent, which pervades the video game industry, has also resulted in several high-profile employment lawsuits. Last year, French game publisher UbiSoft Entertainment Inc. and EA faced off in a Montreal court after EA hired five of its game designers, allegedly violating a noncompete agreement after it opened a game development studio in Montreal. One effect of the change in EA’s legal management could involve the company’s product line-up. Kennedy was considered a strong voice behind the company’s policy against gratuitous sex and violence in video games. During Kennedy’s tenure as general counsel, EA published noncontroversial fare, avoiding the mature-rated genre of games — such as the best-selling Grand Theft Auto — which many of the company’s rivals released.

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