Senior lawyer Bill Kemp ousted by GM following Valukas review, report says

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DETROIT (Bloomberg) -- General Motors Co. ousted Bill Kemp, a senior lawyer who was responsible for safety issues within its legal department, as the automaker reforms the operations that failed to address defective parts linked to 13 deaths, a person familiar with the matter told Bloomberg.

GM’s internal investigation conducted by Anton Valukas found that Kemp worked to blunt a report of an upcoming Cleveland Plain Dealer story in 2005 about the Chevrolet Cobalt stalling, suggesting they give the columnist a videotape demonstrating the remoteness of the risk of it occurring.

Another lawyer responded that she wasn’t optimistic they could come up with something compelling.

“We can’t stand hearing, after the article is published, that we didn’t do enough to defend a brand new launch,” Kemp wrote in an e-mail timed 5:18 a.m. on June 23, 2005.

A voice mail at a telephone number associated with Kemp was full today and he didn’t immediately respond to personal e-mails associated with his name.

CEO Mary Barra today announced 15 people had left the company over the handling of the issue. She refused to identify the employees.

Ray DeGiorgio, the engineer in charge of the flawed part, and Gary Altman, a program engineering manager, were ousted among the 15 employees leaving the company, said another person familiar with the matter. Both DeGiorgio and Altman had previously been suspended with pay as Valukas conducted his investigation.

Lawrence Buonomo, a senior GM lawyer who oversaw product-liability cases, has also left the company as a result of the report's findings, a source familiar with the matter said.

Buonomo chaired committees beginning in March 2012 that decided how GM would settle lawsuits filed by accident victims, The Wall Street Journal reported. The Journal first disclosed Buonomo's departure late Thursday.

According to his Linkedin profile, Buonomo had been with GM since August 1994 and focused on complex commercial and class action litigation, as well as supplier insolvency and restructuring issues. He had also served as the administrative head of GM's in-house litigation team.

One of the committees chaired by Buonomo, the Roundtable, existed to evaluate legal claims, but a number of lawyers said it also served to spot safety problems, The Journal reported, citing the Valukas report.

The report signaled Buonomo out as a lawyer who didn’t share that view of the Roundtable committee's primary role.

“Buonomo, for example, said that it was not the Roundtable’s function to spot trends and that if a lawyer had to flag a trend, then the system had already failed,” the report states.

Mike Colias contributed to this report.

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