Murdoch Lawyer Who Saw Fox Through Crises to Exit After Deal

(Bloomberg) -- Gerson Zweifach, the lawyer who guided billionaire Rupert Murdoch and his family through the British phone-hacking scandal, will step down as general counsel of 21st Century Fox Inc. once the media company completes its $71 billion asset sale to Walt Disney Co.

Zweifach, 65, has served alongside Murdoch since since 2012. He will return to the law firm Williams & Connolly after the deal closes in the first half of 2019, Fox said in a statement Thursday.

“Gerson is one of the brightest legal minds in the business and has been instrumental in our growth,” Rupert and Lachlan Murdoch, the company’s executive chairmen, said in a statement. “We are grateful for his unwavering leadership during a transformational period for our business.”

Zweifach saw the company through several challenges, including a sex-harassment scandal at Fox News, an unsuccessful bid for Time Warner Inc. and now the company’s breakup in a sale to Disney. James Murdoch, Fox’s chief executive officer, described him as having a deep sense of right and wrong -- “brilliant, exacting and fun.”

Zweifach had followed the high-profile scolding of the company -- then called News Corp. -- over allegations that its U.K. newspapers hacked the mobile phones of celebrities, politicians and even a young girl who was murdered. He came aboard when the company was still facing questions about its stewardship of U.K. media businesses. Joel Klein, a News Corp. executive and board member at the time, introduced the veteran litigator to James and Rupert Murdoch.

A Yale Law School graduate, Zweifach left Williams & Connolly to oversee the rebuilding of News Corp.’s global compliance structure from a group of decentralized businesses. He worked on the breakup of News Corp. in 2013, helping to split the company into separate publicly traded news and entertainment businesses and creating 21st Century Fox.

Zweifach also successfully defended Fox’s interests in copyright litigation against Aereo, an over-the-air TV service that tried to exploit broadcasters’s signals in a case that went all the way to the Supreme Court.

In the statement, Gerson said he views his exit from Fox as an end to his “working sabbatical and return home.”

Before joining Fox, Zweifach spent 30 years at Williams & Connolly as a litigator in high profile cases, in one instance defending former New York Stock Exchange Chairman Dick Grasso in a closely watched court battle with the New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer.

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