Wikimedia Seeks New General Counsel, as Godwin Leaves

The Wikimedia Foundation, the San Francisco-based, nonprofit organization that operates Wikipedia and a variety of related projects all built using the MediaWiki software, has started a search for a new general counsel.

The search raises the question of what happened to Mike Godwin, Wikimedia’s GC since 2007. Wikimedia Executive Director Sue Gardner announced on Tuesday that Godwin would be leaving the job effective today. Godwin is well known for his work in Internet law and was one of the counsel of record in the seminal 1997 case, Reno v. American Civil Liberties Union, in which the Supreme Court struck down portions of the Communications Decency Act.

“Mike’s transition out of the role will be a fairly lengthy one,” Gardner wrote. “He will continue to be available to the Wikimedia Foundation to provide information and advice for several months to come.”

Attached to the announcement was an FAQ that included this cryptic Q&A:

Why is Mike leaving the Wikimedia Foundation?

Mike leaving the Wikimedia Foundation is a confidential personnel issue, and the Wikimedia Foundation doesn’t talk about confidential personnel issues with anyone except the people directly involved. We want to handle this kind of thing with respect for people’s privacy and dignity, and we are hopeful we can do that in this instance. That means, we’re not going to answer this question, and we hope you will understand why.

The FAQ goes on to say that Godwin’s departure is not “over a point of principle” or “because he did something egregious.”

Meanwhile, in seeking to replace him, Wikimedia is looking for a lawyer with strong domestic and international experience in legal matters pertaining to intellectual property, free speech, privacy issues and general nonprofit law.

I have attached the full GC position description (PDF). The search is being conducted by the San Francisco search firm m/Oppenheim Associates.