Monday, July 28, 2008

CIRM's Chief Counsel Quits

The attorney who successfully defended the California stem cell agency against challenges to its existence has resigned as CIRM general counsel after only 16 months on the job, according to a well-informed source.

One longtime observer of CIRM affairs characterized the reported resignation of Tamar Pachter(pictured) as a "troubling development" that reflects poorly on CIRM Chairman Robert Klein.

Pachter could not be reached for comment on her decision to leave her $225,000-a-year post. CIRM has not responded to our queries on her resignation.

Pachter is at least the 17th employee to leave CIRM since it began work in 2005. The agency has only slightly more than 30 employees with plans to reach 39 by the end of this fiscal year.

Only last December Pachter received a 41 percent pay increase, up from the $160,000 that she was hired at in March 2007.

Rumblings have surfaced, however, that Pachter was not happy. One likely issue is the fragmented legal approach at CIRM. Typically a general counsel oversees all the legal operations of a state agency or business. However, that was clearly not the case at CIRM.

The agency has retained outside counsel, Remcho, Johansen & Purcell of San Leandro, Ca., since 2005 at a cost exceeding $1 million. CIRM has at least three other attorneys, not including Pachter and Chairman Klein, who wrote much of Prop. 71, the ballot measure that created the agency. None of those attorneys reported to Pachter, according to CIRM's organizational chart. Instead they come under Klein.

CIRM plans to hire two more attorneys this year. Neither of them is linked directly to the general counsel's office. CIRM also has received legal assistance from the state Department of Justice.

Frequently Pachter and James Harrison, Remcho's main CIRM representative, would attend the same CIRM public meetings. Often, Klein deferred to Harrison at those sessions. The Harrison/Remcho contract is due to be renewed on Wednesday for $450,000 for 2008-09 at rates up to $350 an hour.

We asked John M. Simpson, stem cell project director for the Consumer Watchdog group of Santa Monica, Ca., for his thoughts on Pachter's departure. Simpson recently commented on how CIRM's top management seems to be an "old boys' club."

Simpson said,
"If Tamar Pachter has resigned, it is a troubling development. CIRM has been plagued with high turnover and much of the blame for this rests with the management style of Chairman Bob Klein. The agency has lurched too frequently in different directions; what's needed is a steady hand at the helm that allows the routine to become routine."
When Pachter was hired out of a pool of nearly 100 applicants, CIRM hailed her "impeccable legal credentials" and described her as a "superb litigator."

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