Tesla vice president of legal Al Prescott leaves to join Luminar, a lidar company

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Tesla‘s longstanding vice president of legal and acting general counsel, Al Prescott, has left the electric vehicle and renewable energy company to join Luminar, a lidar startup.

The move is noteworthy in many ways. For one, Tesla CEO Elon Musk has long insisted that lidar technology, or light ranging and detection sensors, is too expensive and not necessary for development of autonomous vehicles. Prescott’s move to Luminar, where he will serve as chief legal officer, is an endorsement of the technology, however.

Prescott said in a statement to CNBC:

“Luminar has pioneered safety-critical technology that will power our autonomous future. As someone who’s dedicated my career to automotive safety and innovation, I’m looking forward to helping drive Luminar to the next level and fulfill the mission to make transportation safer for everyone.”

Bill Berry, currently Tesla’s head of litigation, who joined in October 2020 and previously spent time working for Google, is expected head the Tesla department but not assume the role of general counsel according to people familiar with the matter.

Another change at the top of Tesla’s legal department could prove challenging at a time when the company is facing new suits, federal probes and trials that were long-delayed due to the impact of Covid on U.S. courts.

Tesla previously lost three general counsels over the course of a year in 2018 and 2019. In Dec. 2018, Todd Maron, Musk’s top lawyer for the previous four years, left the company. Dane Butswinkas took over but his tenure lasted only about two months, and Jonathan Chang took over as general council but left in Dec. 2019. The company did not hire another top lawyer after that, and Prescott served as Vice President of Legal and Acting General Counsel.

Last year, Tesla was supposed to go to trial trial over shareholder allegations that Tesla CEO Elon Musk forced his electric vehicle company into acquiring an allegedly illiquid solar business, SolarCity, for more than $2 billion in order to benefit himself and family members, was postponed by more than a year. The trial’s original kickoff date was for March 2020,