Virgin Galactic’s top lawyer quits as company defends SPAC lawsuit

Virgin Galactic Holdings Inc., a commercial spaceflight company controlled by billionaire Richard Branson, is losing its chief legal officer in a lawsuit over a merger with a special-purpose acquisition company.

Michelle Kley will step down on July 19, Virgin Galactic said in a securities deposit. She joins Volta Inc., an operator of electric vehicle charging stations, as chief legal officer and corporate secretary on July 20, Volta said in a statement.

Kley’s departure comes as Virgin Galactic defends lawsuit against investor filed last year over alleged accounting discrepancies related to the company’s 2019 merger with a SPAC called Social Capital Hedosophia Holdings Corp.

The lawsuit accused Branson of reaping a $300 million windfall by dumping Virgin Galactic shares at the height of their value.

A spokeswoman for Virgin Galactic confirmed that the company has begun its search for a new top lawyer.

Kley joins Volta along with William Cooper III, a capital and energy markets partner at Sidley Austin, who will serve as the company’s Deputy General Counsel and Deputy Corporate Secretary.

Volta spokeswoman Sabrina Strauss said the two attorneys will work with the company’s acting general counsel, Steven Schnitzer, who was appointed last month following the resignation of its former legal director, James DeGraw.

Schnitzer will gradually hand over his duties to Kley and Cooper, Strauss said.

Volta went public last year by partnering with a SPAC. In March, Volta saw two senior executives resign after the San Francisco-based company delayed disclosing its quarterly results.

Blank role

Kley had joined Virgin Galactic in 2019 after serving as chief legal officer of Maxar Technologies Inc., a space technology and satellite company based in Westminster, Colorado.

She took over from Vanessa Chandler, who last year became Vivino Inc.’s top attorney, a start wine market who grew up Evaluation during the pandemic.

Kley received more than $1.6 million in total compensation from Virgin Galactic last year, including $1 million in stock and about $608,000 in cash, according to the company’s latest report. proxy statement. The package grew from the roughly $511,400 Kley received in 2020.

She also owns $1 million in Virgin Galactic stock, according to Bloomberg data. Securities filings show Kley sold $760,500 of company stock last year.

Blank spaces

A year ago, Virgin Galactic became the first company to take passengers, including Branson, to the far reaches of space on its SpaceShipTwo rocket plane called Unit. The trip came less than two weeks before a similar trip by rival Blue Origin LLC backed by Amazon.com Inc. billionaire Jeff Bezos.

Virgin Galactic’s SPAC merger with Social Capital Hedosophia had made the space company public. Branson used SPACs to reshape his business empire, as about a quarter of his Wealth of $5.7 billion is invested in companies that have listed through such vehicles over the past three years, Bloomberg News reported.

Virgin Orbit Holdings Inc., a satellite launch company in which Branson also has a stake, went public last year as part of a Boeing Co-backed SPAC deal.

Former Facebook Inc. executive Chamath Palihapitiya, a businessman known as ‘SPAC King’ who backed venture Social Capital Hedosophia, sold $213 million worth of Virgin Galactic stock last year , almost two months before the company. amended its 2020 financial statement.

Palihapitiya, who resigned in February as chairman of Virgin Galactic, was sued in March by a Virgin Galactic shareholder claiming he had used his insider position to profit from the company’s artificially inflated share price. .

Latham & Watkins and Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom advised Virgin Galactic and Social Capital Hedosophia, respectivelyon their 2019 wetsuit.

The Virgin Galactic merger has spurred similar deals in the space industry, including at Momentus Inc., a space infrastructure company that last year hired former Department of Defense general counsel Paul Ney. to be his best advocate.

Momentus was sued last month by investors over its 2021 combination with a blank check company that helped take it public.

Legal mix

Virgin Galactic isn’t the only Branson-owned entity to recently change its legal chief.

Thayer Thompson, a former top lawyer at Virgin Hotels who spent more than a decade working for Virgin Group Holdings Ltd. from Branson, left last year. Virgin Hotels hired former Sidley lawyer Elizabeth Stone as its new general counsel in April.

Jeri Rouse Looney, former chief legal officer of Virgin Galactic, left the company last year to become general counsel for Skyryse Inc., an aviation technology company based in El Segundo, Calif. start.

In January, Virgin Galactic hired California attorney Talina Cole to be its director of employee relations. Cole arrived a year after Atlanta attorney Aaron Futch joined the company, which does business in Southern California and New Mexico, as senior director of legal, business and regulatory affairs.

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