I want to let you know that as of this Friday, October 22, 2010, Mike
Godwin will be leaving his role as General Counsel for the Wikimedia
Foundation. Mike’s transition out of the role will be a fairly lengthy
one: he will continue to be available to the Wikimedia Foundation to
provide information and advice for several months to come.
The search for his successor will begin immediately. It's being
conducted by the recruiting firm m|Oppenheim.
There's a detailed Q and A below that I hope will answer any questions
Why is Mike leaving the Wikimedia Foundation?
Mike leaving the Wikimedia Foundation is a confidential personnel
issue, and the Wikimedia Foundation doesn’t talk about confidential
personnel issues with anyone except the people directly involved. We
want to handle this kind of thing with respect for people’s privacy
and dignity, and we are hopeful we can do that in this instance. That
means, we’re not going to answer this question, and we hope you will
Is Mike leaving the Wikimedia Foundation because of a change in
direction or policy, related to our legal context?
Is Mike leaving the Wikimedia Foundation over a point of principle?
For example, because the Wikimedia Foundation wants to do something
that he disagrees with, or because it doesn’t want to do something
that he thinks it should do?
No. We’re not aware of any significant differences of opinion between
Mike and the Wikimedia Foundation, in terms of values, principles,
ethics, future plans, or anything like that.
Is Mike leaving the Wikimedia Foundation because he did something egregious?
Not at all. The Wikimedia Foundation believes Mike has always acted in
what he believes to be the Wikimedia Foundation’s best interests.
What is Mike going to do next?
We don’t know what he’ll end up doing next, but we wish him all the
best, and we hope that he will continue to do the same kind of work
he’s always done -- helping to advance people’s online freedoms. We
think he’s really good at that work, and we hope it’s what he
continues to do.
I like Mike, and I know that it’s a tough economy. Can I ask what the
Wikimedia Foundation is doing to ensure that Mike is okay while he
figures out his next steps?
Yes. The Wikimedia Foundation and Mike have figured out severance that
we all hope will protect Mike and give him time to think about what he
wants to do next. The terms of the severance are confidential: we
won’t talk about them now, or in the future. But you can rest assured
that the Wikimedia Foundation wants to see Mike continue working to
advance people’s online freedoms: everybody would like to see him
continue making an important contribution.
How will a new General Counsel be recruited?
The Wikimedia Foundation has hired m|Oppenheim to help us recruit a
new General Counsel. m|Oppenheim has done great work for us in the
past: they helped us recruit Zack Exley, Barry Newstead and Cyn
Skyberg, and they are currently helping us find a Director of
Technical Operations. We’ve been happy with them, and we’re confident
they’ll be able to help us successfully recruit a new General Counsel.
Who will be involved in the hiring process and how will it work?
Currently, m|Oppenheim is developing a job description for the role.
To that end, they’ve spoken with a number of board members, the
Executive Director, and some of the senior staff. At the same time,
m|Oppenheim is also developing a list of people to contact who might
be interested in the role, or who might know people who would be.
(This list includes people at all kinds of ideologically-like-minded
organizations, such as the EFF, Berkman, our Advisory Board, and so
forth, as well as people at large internet companies such as Google,
eBay, etc.) That “connector” list is being developed in consultation
with several board members, the ED and senior staff. By October 22nd,
m|Oppenheim expects to have the job description posted publicly, and
will begin generating a list of potential candidates.
Once a candidate pool is developed, interviews will be held. The
interviewing process will likely include at a minimum Sue Gardner,
Erik Moeller, Cyn Skyberg, Kat Walsh, Arne Klempert, and Barry
Newstead. There will probably also be others involved (e.g., possibly
additional board members, and possibly additional members of the
senior staff), but that’s the skeleton plan we have right now. We will
also aim to get a sampling of the legal needs of various stakeholder
parties such as chapters, probably by asking m|Oppenheim to interview
two or three chapters representatives and other relevant stakeholders.
If I am interested in the role, or know someone who might be, what should I do?
We welcome applications, and we also welcome ideas about where we
might find good candidates. Feel free to get in touch with Lisa
Grossman at m|Oppenheim, at lisag(a)moppenheim.com. She’d be glad to
hear from you.
Will the new General Counsel job description be significantly
different from Mike’s?
No. m|Oppenheim is having conversations with stakeholders about the
General Counsel role, and will update the job description based on
those conversations. But we don’t expect the resultant job description
to be substantially different from the existing one.
What is the gist of the General Counsel job?
Our General Counsel role is slightly unusual, in that it has a bit of
a double focus. First, the Wikimedia Foundation (and the Wikimedia
movement) are ideologically-motivated -- or if you prefer,
values-driven/agenda-driven. That means we need a lawyer who shares
Wikimedia’s ideological agenda: who, for example, supports people’s
right to access information online unimpeded by censorship, and who
supports a legal context that enables people to work collaboratively
online to develop educational and informational materials for other
people to read. And second, the Wikimedia Foundation is a 501(c)3
non-profit organization based in the United States that operates
international web properties, and interacts with non-American chapter
organizations. To that end, we need a lawyer who can be responsible
for all the legal terrain implied by that: somebody who understands
the legal issues relevant to the operation of a big website, to the
operation of a US-based non-profit organization, to the legal transfer
of funds among various international entities, and so forth. Clearly
no single person can be an expert in all of that. Which tells us that
we need a General Counsel who is 1) ideologically-aligned with our
work, and 2) capable of effectively outsourcing specialized legal work
to others, and ensuring it gets done well, consistent with our vision,
values and goals.
How long will it take before there is a new General Counsel in place?
We’re expecting a new General Counsel would likely start work sometime
in January. It’s possible the search would take longer, and we won’t
hire anyone until we have a candidate we’re happy with. But past
searches suggest to us that we can likely expect the search to wrap up
in January, or shortly afterward.
Who will look after the Wikimedia Foundation’s legal interests in the interim?
We’re currently talking with outside counsel that we’ve worked with in
the past to establish an interim presence to help us during the
General Counsel search time frame. We should have that in place by the
end of this week.
If I get a legal complaint or have a question that in the past I would
have forwarded to Mike, where should I now be sending it?
All legal information should be submitted in the same way that you are
doing so now: any changes to the process will be handled further
Is it dangerous, for the Wikimedia Foundation to be legally exposed
during this period?
Obviously it would be ideal for us to have a General Counsel in place
consistently, with no interruption, and we wish that Mike had been
able to agree to stay on with us during the recruitment process.
Having said that, we’ve taken steps to protect Wikimedia, and we
believe we will be well-protected in the interim period. We believe
that because 1) the Wikimedia movement in general has developed some
pretty solid legal understanding over the years, which includes robust
processes for handling legal threats and problems of various kinds.
There is a good infrastructure for handling certain types of legal
risks, that’s not entirely dependent on a General Counsel for
day-to-day operations. 2) Over the past several years, we’ve developed
good relationships with a number of lawyers with specific
subject-matter expertise that we need. Those relationships will be
helpful for us in the interim period until a new GC arrives. 3) For
the transition period, we are lining up a good generalist lawyer, who
we’ve worked with in the past, and who has agreed to be the Wikimedia
Foundation’s single-point-of-contact for support until there’s a new
General Counsel in place. And 4) Mike has agreed to be available to
the Wikimedia Foundation for advice and support, for many months to
come. So all in all, we think the risk has been acceptably mitigated.
How was this Q and A document developed?
This document was written mostly by Sue Gardner, with some help from
Cyn Skyberg. It was reviewed in detail by Mike, and he's agreed to
have it published.
Why was this Q and A document developed?
We know that whenever someone leaves the Wikimedia Foundation, there
are always lots of questions. And we know that people have sometimes
been dissatisfied with how short and uninformative our answers are. We
sympathize with people who want to know what’s going on. This Q and A
is an attempt to balance Mike’s right to privacy, against people’s
desire to understand what’s going on, particularly because Mike is in
a high-profile role, and is well-known inside the Wikimedia community.
We wouldn’t have published it without Mike’s permission.
In general, when people leave the Wikimedia Foundation, they make the
decision about how much to say, when and to whom. So you should
assume, whenever anyone leaves, that what’s being said is what they’re
comfortable with: no more, no less.
If I have additional questions that aren’t answered here, where should
I take them?
If you have questions about the General Counsel role, please feel free
to ask them in any regular forum (e.g., foundation-l, internal-l) and
Sue or someone else will get them answered.
415 839 6885 office
415 816 9967 cell
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