Embattled GM Chief Counsel Millikin Retires Early

Whether a man of “impeccable integrity” or “gross incompetence” is a matter of debate.

by on Oct.17, 2014

Millikin became GM General Counsel in 2009.

Embattled General Motors General Counsel Michael Millikin will retire early, the automaker has announced, a move that comes shortly after the maker was hit with a $10 billion class action lawsuit alleging it long concealed a series of safety problems.

While GM CEO Mary Barra issued a statement praising the 66-year-old attorney for his “tremendous career,” it is likely that Millikin’s departure comes as something of a relief considering the way he has been portrayed as a pivotal figure in the mishandling of a long-delayed ignition switch recall now linked to 27 deaths.

The Last Word!

Just three months ago, Millikin came under direct fire during a series of Capitol Hill hearings looking into the GM recall brouhaha. At one point, Senator Claire McCaskill, a Maryland Democrat, directly accused Millikin of “incompetence,” asking CEO Barra why he hadn’t been fired.

For her part, Barra defended Millikin as a man of “high integrity,” but the angry dispute left many observers wondering when, rather than if, Millikin would find a way to exit GM with as much dignity as he could still muster.

(Airbag issue forces recall of GM’s new midsize trucks. Click Here for the latest.)

A graduate of Michigan State University, with a law degree from the Washington University School of Law, Millikin initially helped prosecute drug-related cases out of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Detroit. He joined GM in 1977 and handled largely overseas legal matters until 2000, at one point joining the Supervisory Board for GM’s European subsidiary Opel. Millikin was named the automaker’s Associate General Counsel in 2005 and was promoted to its top legal spot four years later, the same time GM was going through bankruptcy.

His time working out of GM headquarters in Detroit coincides with some of the biggest problems in the maker’s history, including its run through Chapter 11. But it also overlapped with the ignition switch debacle.

According to GM’s own documents, the maker knew about the faulty ignition switch – which could inadvertently move out of the On position, causing a vehicle to stall and its airbag system to fail – for more than a decade. Early discussions of a recall were dropped and, in a peculiar move, a replacement part was eventually ordered, but the part number wasn’t changed, a move that made it less likely the original problem would be discovered.

An outside report by former federal prosecutor Anton Valukas was highly critical of the maker’s handling of the case, going on to fault many of the basic processes at work inside GM. As a result of the probe, more than a dozen people were fired or forced into early retirement. But there were many who questioned why others weren’t ousted, including Millikin.

A separate investigation is now underway at the U.S. Justice Department, and criminal charges could follow. As many as 45 other states also are investigating the recall switch problem. The lawsuit filed in Manhattan federal court this week follows on the heels of a number of lawsuits related to the switch issue. And a special victim’s compensation fund GM has set up is expected to yet increase the number of those it declares to have died as a result of the defect.

(Latest death count from ignition switch defect raised to 27. Click Here for the latest.)

Might Millikin yet be directly linked to what has been called a cover-up? That remains to be seen, but Sen. McCaskill seethed with rage when she asked, “How in the world, in the aftermath of this report, did Michael Millikin keep his job? This is either gross negligence or gross incompetence on the part of [Millikin], the notion that he can say, ‘I didn’t know.’”

(Click Here for more on the GM hearings.)

Even as critics try to link Millikin to the mess, Barra offered nothing but a strong endorsement as the General Counsel turned in his retirement papers.

“For me personally, Mike has been incredibly helpful over the past two decades,” Barra said in a prepared statement. “I find him a man of impeccable integrity, respectful candor, and unwavering loyalty. He will be missed. I wish him and his wife, Karen, much happiness in this next chapter of their lives.”

GM has not said who will replace Millikin but it is likely to make sure that whoever follows up as its top lawyer won’t be readily linked to the company’s ongoing recall and safety problems.

(Honda may have under-reported deaths, injuries to federal regulators. Click Here for the breaking story.)

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2 Responses to “Embattled GM Chief Counsel Millikin Retires Early”

  1. Jorge says:

    What an insult for ANY of the politicians in DC to be criticizing the handling or anything. Pretty much everyone of the politicians in DC should have resigned and paid back tax payers for the theft they perpetrated by accepting a salary for destroying the U.S. That includes Congress, Obama, the EPA and many others.

    The are an unscrupulous group to say the least so they would be wise to shut their pie hole.

  2. A dedicated GM career man who probably practiced the ” GM NOD ” well and often and is probably as crooked as many N.Y. Shysters

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