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Energy Firm Avista Corp. Names Successor to Longtime Legal Chief

Feb. 11, 2020, 9:05 PM

Avista Corp. will soon have a new top in-house lawyer, a little more than a year after the energy company’s proposed $3.4 billion sale to Canada’s Hydro One Ltd. was abandoned in the face of opposition from state regulators.

The Spokane, Wash.-based utility, which provides electricity, natural gas, and other energy services to customers in parts of Oregon, northern Idaho, and eastern Washington, announced Feb. 10 that senior vice president, chief legal officer, and corporate secretary Marian Durkin will retire Aug. 1, ceding most of her duties to designated successor Gregory Hesler.

Durkin’s pending retirement will come exactly 15 years to the day that she joined Avista to lead its law department, the energy company said in a statement.

“During her tenure, Marian has defined our business needs to build our legal department from the ground up to the robust team it is today,” said Avista President and CEO Dennis Vermillion. “As the focus and scrutiny on compliance has grown across many different industries, Marian has also centralized the company’s compliance efforts and taken our compliance department to a new level,” he said.

Vermillion credited Durkin for counseling the company on its sale of former energy trading unit Avista Energy in 2007 and its $335 million divestiture of energy management subsidiary Ecova in 2014. She also advised Avista on its efforts to expand its utility business, such as its all-stock $170 million purchase in 2014 of the Alaska Electric Light and Power Co., the electric utility serving Alaska’s capital city of Juneau.

Prior to joining Avista in 2005, Durkin served as a vice president, deputy general counsel, and assistant corporate secretary at United Airlines Inc. for 10 years in Chicago. She began her career and eventually made partner at the Minneapolis-based Briggs and Morgan, which recently merged with Ohio’s Taft Stettinius & Hollister.

Durkin didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment about her decision to leave Avista. In a statement provided by the company Durkin said she looked forward to spending more time with her three grandchildren and traveling, noting that while she didn’t “have any specific destinations selected yet,” she is “looking forward to developing my bucket list.”

Avista’s Legal Advisers

Hesler, promoted by Avista late last year to vice president, general counsel, and chief compliance officer, will assume the bulk of Durkin’s duties as in-house legal chief. He joined Avista in 2015 from Paine Hamblen, a Spokane-based firm where Hesler spent nearly a dozen years as outside counsel to the company. He didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.

While a partner at Paine Hamblen, Hesler’s practice focused on commercial litigation, environmental and tribal issues, and matters related to land use and utilities. The firm has handled 11.1% of Avista’s litigation caseload since 2007, according to Bloomberg Law data.

That percentage ties Paine Hamblen with Baker Botts, Montana’s Garlington Lohn & Robinson, Perkins Coie, Stoel Rives, and Van Ness Feldman as one of Avista’s top litigation firms over the last 13 years.

Paine Hamblen represented Avista, then known as the Washington Water Power Co., on a $39 million settlement in 1999 with the Nez Perce Tribe in Idaho over damage the company caused to salmon and steelhead trout fisheries from the construction of hydroelectric dams. The firm also advised Avista in 2009 on another $168 million settlement with Idaho’s Coeur d’Alene Tribe.

Avista paid $150,000 last year to attorney Jeff Bjornstad, president of federal affairs and strategic communications at Washington 2 Advocates, a lobbying firm with offices in the nation’s capital and Bellevue, Wash., to advocate for the company on energy and tax issues, according to U.S. Senate records.

Avista turned to Kirkland & Ellis in 2017 for outside counsel on its ill-fated sale to Toronto-based based electric utility Hydro One.

The deal collapsed last year after regulators in Idaho and Washington state objected, citing instances of political interference with Hydro One’s management by Ontario Premier Doug Ford. The Canadian province owns a roughly 47% stake in Hydro One.

To contact the reporter on this story: Brian Baxter in New York at bbaxter@bloomberglaw.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Seth Stern at sstern@bloomberglaw.com

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