Tesla loses its third general counsel in the last year

Key Points
  • Tesla's general counsel Jonathan Chang is leaving the company to serve as general counsel at SambaNova, an AI chip start-up.
  • The company has lost three general counsels in the past year.
SpaceX owner and Tesla CEO Elon Musk gestures during a conversation at the E3 gaming convention in Los Angeles, June 13, 2019.
Mike Blake | Reuters

Tesla's general counsel is leaving the company, marking the latest executive departure for the electric-car maker.

Jonathan Chang, who worked at Tesla for almost nine years, has taken a position as general counsel at SambaNova, the AI chip start-up announced Thursday. In a statement, SambaNova CEO Rodrigo Liang said the company "looks forward to growing the company" with Chang on board.

SambaNova, based in Palo Alto, recently landed an investment from the venture capital arm of Google parent Alphabet.

With Chang's departure, Tesla has now lost three general counsels in the past year. Tesla's general counsel Todd Maron left the company in December 2018. Maron's successor, Dane Butswinkas, left the company in February 2019 after just two months on the job because he was not a good cultural fit, a source familiar with the situation told CNBC at the time.

News of Chang's departure was first reported by Bloomberg. Tesla did not respond to multiple requests for comment.

Tesla underwent several tumultuous months of controversy during Chang's tenure. In addition to Musk's tweets about taking the company private, he also caught the ire of the Securities and Exchange Commission after posting inaccurate tweets about Tesla vehicle production.

Earlier this month, Musk was found not liable in a trial over tweets in which he called British cave diver Vernon Unsworth a "pedo guy." Unsworth brought the suit against Musk in September 2018, after the Tesla and SpaceX CEO had called him "sus" (suspicious) and a "pedo guy" on Twitter earlier that summer. Musk also characterized the spelunker as a "child rapist" in e-mails to Buzzfeed reporter Ryan Mac and practically requested the lawsuit in August 2018 with a tweet that said, "Don't you think it's strange he hasn't sued me?"

In his testimony during the defamation trial this week, Musk apologized to Unsworth and said he did not believe the cave explorer was a pedophile.

— CNBC's Lora Kolodny contributed to this report.

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