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Tesla to replace top lawyer Dane Butswinkas after two months

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Tesla said general counsel Dane Butswinkas is leaving the electric car company two months after he was hired. It's the second sudden high-level departure in the past month for the automaker.

Butswinkas will be replaced by Jonathan Chang, vice president of legal, effective immediately, according to a statement emailed Wednesday to CBS MoneyWatch. The departure comes after Tesla in January said CFO Deepak Ahuja would retire from the automaker.

"I'm grateful for the opportunity over the past seven months to have worked with both Elon and Tesla, first as outside counsel and most recently as general counsel at Tesla," Butswinkas said in the statement. He said he plans to continue his work with Tesla in an outside counsel role. 

Butswinkas plans to return to full-time work at Williams & Connolly, his law practice in Washington, DC, and his family. Butswinkas wasn't immediately available for comment. 

Chang started advising Tesla in 2006 as outside counsel at Latham & Watkins before joining the company in 2011, which followed the carmaker's initial public offering. After several promotions, he was named vice president of legal in 2017, where he managed Tesla's legal organization in the U.S. and Europe. Chang is known for his role in challenging state laws that prevent Tesla and other car manufacturers from selling and delivering cars directly to consumers.

As general counsel, Chang is assuming leadership of Tesla's global legal and policy teams. He will report to Tesla CEO Elon Musk.

Shares of Tesla slipped 1.4 percent in afternoon trading. 

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Executive departures

The general counsel's departure is the latest in a series of executive exits from the car company. In January, Musk announced CFO Ahuja would be retiring from Tesla, replaced by Zach Kirkhorn, who had served as Tesla's vice president of finance. In September, Dave Morton, chief accounting officer, resigned after one month in the position.

For now, internal hires like Kirkhorn and Chang might be safest for a tech company that is working through a tumultuous global expansion and known for its exacting work culture, according to Daniel Ives, an analyst at Wedbush Securities.

"They're individuals who have proven themselves internally and they're probably the safer hires for Tesla now, rather than an outsider," Ives said. 

For Tesla, which recently reported its second consecutive quarter of profit growth, investors might not be overly concerned so long as the departure is not from the engineering or core business side, Ives added.

"It's not a good headline, but it doesn't move the needle that much for investors," Ives said. 

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