The Sierra Club has hired Erica McKinley as its chief legal officer after the environmental group decided to replace most of its top executives over the past year.
McKinley recently served as the Big Ten collegiate athletic conference’s top in-house counsel. The Big Ten hired McKinley last year from her role as general counsel at the University of Mississippi.
She takes on the best lawyer for a 130-year-old nonprofit that’s been party to environmental cases that have reached the United States Supreme Court.
The Sierra Club announced last August that its longtime executive director, Michael Brune, would step down at the end of the year. Politico reported that Brune’s resignation after 11 years preceded a June 2021 report from an outside consulting firm that detailed allegations of workplace discrimination and harassment.
The internal reckoning touched on the controversial past of Sierra Club founder John Muir, and also involved allegations of abusive senior officials and volunteers tied to race, sex and gender, according to The Intercept.
McKinley did not respond to a request for comment on the role she took on in April. Sierra Club spokesman Adam Bingman confirmed McKinley’s hiring.
The New York Times reported earlier this year on the Sierra Club’s transition, which led to the appointment of an interim executive director with Ramón Cruz, the chairman of its board of directors, assuming much of his management functions. The executive leadership page of the Sierra Club website remains blank.
In April, the Sierra Club suspended management of its Colorado chapter for four years, citing a month-long review by the national organization that described a “harmful” management culture.
The Sierra Club received funding from Bloomberg Philanthropies, the charity founded by Michael Bloomberg. Bloomberg Law is operated by entities controlled by Michael Bloomberg.
The Sierra Club parted ways with former general counsel Philip Eager last year. Associate General Counsel Juliette Hirt has served as the organization’s acting chief legal officer since April 2021, according to her LinkedIn profile. She did not respond to a request for comment on McKinley’s hiring.
The Sierra Club’s latest federal tax return for 2019 shows that it paid Brune approximately $351,000 that year; nearly $196,000 to Eager; and more than $250,000 to the organization’s former chief legal officer, Patrick Gallagher, who retired in 2021 after leading its litigation team for two decades.
The Sierra Club is the latest high-profile, mission-driven organization to make changes to its legal leadership following an internal scandal.
Mercy Corps, a humanitarian aid organization, last year announced the hiring of a new general counsel following allegations of sexual abuse against its late co-founder.
The Wounded Warrior Project brought back a former in-house attorney as chief legal officer in 2020 after coming under scrutiny over his spending habits.
And in 2019, the American Red Cross hired a legal and ethics officer from Walmart Inc. after coming under fire years earlier for its accounting on donations.
Other environmental groups have also added legal aid.
Last year, Greenpeace promoted veteran insider Kristin Casper to general counsel for its international coordination arm.
The Environmental Defense Fund tapped CM Tokë Vandervoort, former assistant general counsel at Under Armor Inc., last year to be the top lawyer in the class.
The Bezos Earth Fund, a philanthropic organization launched in 2020 with a $10 billion donation from Amazon.com Inc. founder Jeff Bezos, announced on February 25 the hiring of General Counsel Douglas Varley, former partner and president of the law firm Caplin & Drysdale. in Washington.
Earthjustice, a San Francisco-based nonprofit organization originally known as the Sierra Club Legal Defense Fund until adopting its current name in 1997, hired a new general counsel last month in Conchita Lozano- Batista.
Earthjustice, formed in 1971 by former Sierra Club volunteer lawyers who licensed the latter organization’s name, has remained a distinct group that also frequently pursues its environmental goals in court.
Big ten turnover
The Big Ten announced on March 28 the arrival of McKinley’s successor in former University of Oklahoma system general counsel Anil Gollahalli. He marks the third legal chief hired in three years by the Big Ten, which parted ways in early 2021 with former general counsel Tshneka Tate.
The Big Ten is led by Kevin Warren, a former Greenberg Traurig partner who joined the Chicago-based suburban conference as commissioner in 2020 after serving as a legal and business executive for the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings.
Warren received nearly $1.2 million in total compensation from the Big Ten, one of the so-called Power Five conferences in college sports, after being hired Jan. 1, 2020, according to the company’s latest tax return. organization for 2019-20.
James Delany, a fellow attorney who led the Big Ten from 1989 until his retirement in 2020, received more than $8.5 million in the same fiscal year.
The Big Ten also paid nearly $258,000 in 2019-20 to Chad Hawley, another attorney and longtime compliance and governance manager for the conference.
The Big Ten press release in March touting its hiring of Gollahalli as chief legal officer also noted Hawley’s promotion to senior vice president of policy and compliance, a role in which he works with the chief. of Cabinet and Deputy General Counsel Adam Neumann.
All three attorneys report to Warren. Public records show Gollahalli, a former partner at Morgan, Lewis & Bockius who has been the University of Oklahoma’s top attorney since 2008, earned an annual salary of nearly $317,000 as recently as 2018.