DETROIT -- When Lucy Clark Dougherty was appointed in early 2011 as General Motors' top lawyer for North America, she was viewed by GM insiders as the leading candidate to succeed her boss, General Counsel Michael Millikin.
Now the two attorneys are sharing an uncomfortable spotlight amid sharp criticism of the legal department's handling of a faulty ignition switch linked to at least 13 deaths.
Millikin, 65, was assailed during a Senate panel hearing this month for not having known about the deadly defect, even as lawsuits, costly settlements and other warning signs mounted. Clark Dougherty, 45, is even closer to the day-to-day workings of the department and normally would be the conduit for such bad news to flow to Millikin, according to three people familiar with the legal department's structure.
Clark Dougherty has ultimate oversight of product litigation and product safety matters, the sources say. All four of the GM attorneys dismissed in the wake of an internal investigation either reported to her directly or were in her chain of command.
They included two senior attorneys: Larry Buonomo, the head of GM's litigation department; and Bill Kemp, GM's top safety lawyer. Both directly reported to Clark Dougherty and typically met with her at least a few times a week, including standing weekly meetings, the sources said. The two other attorneys let go in the wake of the probe, Ron Porter and Jaclyn Palmer, reported to Buonomo, the sources said.
The internal probe, led by outside attorney Anton Valukas, found that each of those lawyers spent considerable time on the ignition switch matter. Buonomo, for example, headed two review committees that authorized several settlements with ignition switch plaintiffs. But he did not believe it was the role of the committees to flag safety trends or advocate for recalls, a view that differed from other staffers', the report says.