Mets appoints two veteran company lawyers as co-general counsel

The New York Mets have named James Denniston and Jessica Villanella as co-general counsel following the departure of former legal chief David Cohen.

Denniston has been the team’s senior legal counsel since 2013. The Mets hired Denniston, a former Major League Baseball sponsorship and licensing contract employee, as legal counsel in 2008, the team’s last year at play at Shea Stadium.

Villanella joined the Mets as legal counsel in 2014 after spending nearly a year as an associate at Jackson Lewis in Melville, NY. She previously interned at the National Hockey League’s legal counsel‘s office in New York City.

The Mets have named the co-leaders of the legal group after David Cohen, unrelated to new Mets owner Steven Cohen, left the organization amid an internal investigation into the club’s workplace culture.

The team hired law firm Wilmer Cutler Pickering Hale and Dorr, which has become a popular firm for corporate investigations, after several former Mets employees were accused of improper conduct with different women, some working for the organization and other employees in the sports media.

Harold Kaufman, a spokesperson for the Mets, confirmed to Bloomberg Law that Denniston and Villanella have taken on their new roles starting July 9. The Major League Baseball franchise, sold last year to hedge fund mogul Cohen in a $ 2.4 billion deal, currently sits at No. 1 in the National League East.

Denniston and Villanella both work from the Mets offices in Flushing, NY, site of the team’s home stadium, the 42,000-seat Citi Field. Neither lawyer responded to requests for comment on their new internal legal roles.

Villanella, who the Mets promoted to senior counsel in 2016, is married to Alessandro “Alex” Villanella, a Melville-based labor and employment litigation partner at Jackson Lewis. The latter is a firm that employs attorney Randy Levine, who is also chairman of Crosstown Mets rival, the New York Yankees.

In March, ahead of MLB opening day, the Mets hired ex-Katten Muchin partner Rosenman Ennis Coble as legal counsel and former legal director of Barclays Capital Inc. Jane Son as director. community engagement and team building.

David Cohen, who began working for the Mets as an articling student in 1995, spent years as the club’s general counsel before being promoted to general counsel in 2019. That same year, the Mets promoted longtime deputy general counsel Neal Kaplan. a decade in the role — to the attorney general.

Kaplan, who did not respond to a request for comment, became vice president of strategy for the Mets in February. He spent almost 19 years with the team, which hired Kaplan as legal counsel in 2003 and promoted him to senior counsel in 2007.

The Mets, whose new owner improved the team’s finances while making acquisitions of big-name players, had been known for years for making disastrous deals and wading on and off the field.

The Queens club owes its existence to the late New York lawyer William Shea, who worked to secure an MLB expansion squad in 1962 that incorporated the blue and orange of the Dodgers and Giants respectively, teams who fled to California.

In May, Shea’s grandson, F. Scott Shea, got a new legal position. The former partner of Duval & Stachenfeld in New York has stepped down as managing director and general counsel of real estate investor CMR Capital Group LLC, based in Pasadena, Calif., To become general counsel of Hopson Development Holdings Ltd in Hong Kong.

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