Mixed Signals

Telecom Lawyers, Part 1: Dish’s General Counsel, Stanton Dodge, Esq.

12/31/2013 3:52 PM

 

Stanton Dodge has worked since 1996 as one of the dozens of lawyers assisting Dish Network’s chairman, Charlie Ergen, and their team of thousands of employees at the DBS provider. 

In that more than 17 years, Dodge has advanced to corporate secretary, executive vice president, and general counsel, but more importantly, he says he has learned to mentor and help make those around him better at what they do. Indeed, as the answers below connote, during those years at Dish Network/EchoStar, he’s been quite fortunate to have gained a rather bountiful plate full of experience and perspective to apply to his core tasks of legal and regulatory affairs.

Because the role of a telecom entity’s top legal officer is of such importance  – yet one that is so underestimated and in normal trade journals so rarely told – “Mixed Signals” chooses to present this four-part series, focusing segment spokespeople who both understand the importance of law and regulation within the industry, but also convey some of their thinking, strategy, and passion for the job. Additional snapshots in the weeks ahead will focus on general counsel from TiVo, Comcast, and Viacom, as well.

Here, below first is a quick biographical look at Mr. Stanton Dodge, followed by a slightly-edited/slightly-corrected set of questions and answers, conducted earlier this month. Questions were developed with an idea toward taking a look at the person behind the job, and their thinking, motivations, and goals, both on behalf of their companies and on behalf of their professions. Also, because long ago I, too, worked as a lawyer for a big telecom’s legal department, I thought I might be able to add a few unique perspectives and clarifications, where necessary and/or optimal.
 

Stanton Dodge, A Brief Biography:
R. Stanton Dodge serves Dish Network (NASDAQ: DISH), a Fortune 200 satellite TV provider with more than 14 million subscribers nationwide. In addition to the positions described above, Dodge was responsible for human resources from January 2010 through July 2011. 

In 2013, Dodge was selected for the inaugural The Legal 500 – Corporate Counsel 100: United States, recognizing the 100 most influential in-house lawyers in the United States. 

Dodge is actively involved in many community and philanthropic causes. He serves as a member of the board of directors of National Jewish Health and the Denver Scholarship Foundation, and is a member of the E-Discovery Committee of the United States District Court for the District of Colorado. 

Prior to joining Dish, Mr. Dodge was a law clerk to the Hon. Jose D.L. Marquez of the Colorado Court of Appeals. 
 

Mixed Signals’ Q & A:
MS: Tell “Mixed Signals” about your schooling?
SD:
I did my undergrad in accounting, graduating in 1991 from the University of Vermont; I graduated from the Suffolk University Law School, located in Boston, MA,  in 1995 (1).

MS:  What is your Dish Network staff size?
SD:  Forty-five, including thirty attorneys.
MS:  How much of your job time is spent on the road versus in the office?
SD:  I’m on the road about twenty-five percent of the time.
MS:  Which are the places you visit the most?
SD:  I travel to Washington, DC a lot, and about eighty percent of my Washington, DC time is devoted to policy; I have also been spending a fair amount of time in New York City managing litigation.
MS:  Why is a general counsel important to a big telecom?
SD:  One thing…a great company has to have someone at the highest levels, where folks can come and talk. They need to tell their points of view without concern…there has to be a safe place to kick around ideas.
MS:  What are the core things you do in your job?
SD:  I mentor junior lawyers and other professionals; I make sure they, we, learn good lessons from the past. I want those lessons to continue to be played forward. Two weeks ago, I had my seventeenth anniversary at this company. I see the general counsel as the torchbearer of the corporate culture, making sure that gets passed on to the next generation. And exercises in legal learning can be a big part of that; that we don’t make the same mistake twice.
MS:  How do you spend the majorities of your time?
SD: I spend about half of my project-based time on managing litigation; most of the rest of my project-based time is spent guiding our wireless regulatory interests, primarily in Washington, DC. In that latter role, I spend time being part of the core team that is building the foundation for us to participate in the all-important wireless market one day. I think of this as doing the spade work that creates the next big step for this company.
MS:  What are your personal legal favorites?
SD:  I get my greatest satisfaction from seeing our junior lawyers progress in their judgment and thought processes. Seeing them develop into great lawyers…it’s just like watching and helping with young kids, seeing them “grow up.”
MS:  What duties are not so pleasant?
SD:  Seeing how some folks try to make litigation less about resolving disputes on the merits, and more about a quest for endless sideshows and detours seeking a procedural advantage.
MS:  What duties are the most important?
SD:  Wireless. Plain and simple. And standing up for consumers. Our Hopper (2) is the best current example of that. It is critical that I as a legal representative and Dish as a company advance technology for the benefit of consumers, and that we stand up to entrenched incumbents …we are about moving the ball forward…and being a disruptive force for the benefit of consumers.
MS:  What are big legal controversies or issues ahead for you and Dish, on a legal and regulatory basis? FCC? Copyright? Others?
SD:  It is critical that the industry create meaningful retransmission reform (3). In 2010, we had ten broadcast station takedowns, last year we had about hundred, this year it approaching one hundred fifty. Consumers are suffering,  and something has to be done there to prevent blackouts and level the negotiation playing field for distributors.
MS:  Please ID a couple of current opportunities?
SD:  I see cost cutting, in-house and in the industry, as opportunities.
MS:  Looking back, what was your biggest challenge legally?
SD:  The case against TiVo (4).  It was “bet-the-company” litigation, in the truest sense of the words.
MS:  What has been the best/worst event or occurrence in your legal life that taught or impressed a lesson on you?
SD:  The Voom trial. I learned a lot sitting in a courtroom for four straight weeks.
MS:  Who in your background impressed you legally?
SD:  Judge Bruce Selya, from the First Circuit U.S. Court of Appeals. I interned for him in law school in 1995 (5).
MS:  Who in your background “non-legally” impressed you?
SD:  My dad.
MS:  If you could do the legal experience over again, what would you change?
SD:  Nothing.  I’ve been tremendously fortunate: I have been learning, growing and challenged every day at Dish for seventeen years -- and for me, professionally, that’s what it’s all about.

Jimmy Schaeffler is a telecom author and chairman and CSO of the Carmel-by-the-Sea-based streaming, broadcast and pay TV/video consultancy, The Carmel Group (www.carmelgroup.com).

1. Dodge did not mention it during our interview, however, he graduated magna cum laude from law school. Coincidentally, Matt Zinn, Esq., the subject of next week’s “Mixed Signals” (and Dodge’s key legal rival in the seminal patent case of TiVo vs. EchoStar), is also a graduate of the University of Vermont.

2.The Hopper, for the lay-person in our audience, is a top-of-the line TV set-top box and digital video recorder, developed and manufactured by EchoStar, another telecom company controlled by Charlie Ergen, located in Englewood, CO (See, http://www.dish.com/technology/hopper/?WT.svl=technologysubnav).
   
3.Retransmission consent involves a process of negotiations between pay TV operators on the one hand, and broadcasters, on the other, focused on the appropriate compensation to broadcasters for the right to retransmit their content.   
   
4.From a transparency POV, it is important to note that The Carmel Group was hired as and served in four separate roles in various cases on behalf of TiVo – including the TiVo vs. EchoStar case. The Carmel Group also served as both a testifying and consulting expert witness in three separate cases involving and on behalf of both EchoStar and Dish Network.   
    
(5) See, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bruce_M._Selya.
  

March