Autoblog has learned the names of two more attorneys fired after an independent investigator took a sweeping look at General Motors' failure to recall vehicles with failure-prone ignition switches. According to a source who didn't want to be identified because the information was not intended to be public, the company fired Jaclyn Palmer and Ron Porter, who were named in the 320-page report conducted by former US Attorney Anton Valukas, which was released earlier this week. Five lawyers total were dismissed from the legal department, and three of them have previously been identified in other news outlets.
Both attorneys came in contact with cases that could have resulted in GM recalling the vehicles sooner.
Both attorneys came in contact with cases that, had they been treated as urgent matters or serious safety issues, could have resulted in GM recalling the vehicles sooner. The automaker knew about the ignition-switch flaw for more than a decade, even before affected cars were sold. But it didn't issue its first recall related to the problem, in which the switches inadvertently move from the "run" position to the "accessory" position and turn off the engine and airbags, until February.
The New York Times says the fired lawyers perpetuated a culture of secrecy, and kept knowledge of the fatal ignition switch recall from their boss, GM General Counsel Michael P. Milliken. Three other attorneys fired have already been publicly identified: William Kemp, who oversaw the in-house investigation into the ignition switch problems for two years before a recall was issued this February; and Lawrence Buonomo, who held a similar position in the legal department. Jennifer Sevigny, an attorney who led GM's field product assessment group, was also fired, according to Automotive News.
The ignition-switch failures have been linked to at least 13 fatalities and 54 accidents. An investigation by Reuters claims the death toll could be as high as 74 people. GM said it fired 15 people in the wake of the Valukas report, including engineer Ray DeGiorgio, who oversaw design of the ignition switch and approved changes to the part but never updated the part's number. Failure to update the part number confused investigators and slowed down the process.
One meeting held in July 2012, more than eight years after the problems were identified at the automaker, was attended by Palmer and Porter. At that meeting, a more junior staff attorney asked point-blank why the company hadn't already recalled the cars. According to the report, the junior attorney was told GM's engineering team didn't know how to fix the problem, but they were looking into it.
Attorneys, including Palmer and Porter, didn't bring the issue to their boss, nor did they insist on a timetable for the safety investigation.
Executives across GM failed to act with a sense of urgency, according to the report. In 2011, the attorneys seemed to realize there was something problematic happening. They gathered together engineers and the product investigation team to tell the investigative team the airbag non-deployment problem was a pressing issue. But some of the engineering team thought the problem wasn't happening often enough to warrant treating it like a big deal. Both sides left frustrated, and nothing more was done for six months. But the attorneys, including Palmer and Porter, didn't bring the issue to their boss, nor did they insist on a timetable for the safety investigation.
So far, 10 of the 15 fired have been identified in the media. Michael Robinson, vice president of sustainability and global regulatory affairs, was the highest ranking official fired in the aftermath, according to the Detroit Free Press. Among the others let go are Carmen Benavides, who acted as the liaison to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, as well as Gary Altman, an engineering manager who worked on the Chevy Cobalt, and Gay Kent, general director of safety and vehicle crash worthiness, according to the Free Press.