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Stem cell agency loses key executive

Synthetic cells, a 3D illustration. (Jurik Peter, via Shutterstock)

The $3 billion California stem cell agency said it is losing one of its top leaders, James Harrison, one of the authors of the measure that created the agency and who most recently is serving as its “unflappable” general counsel.

The agency announced on Friday (March 17) that Harrison would be departing at the end of June “to focus full-time on his legal practice.”

Harrison was one of five persons who drafted Proposition 71, the ballot initiative that created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

Harrison has worked with the agency under contract since its inception in 2004. He was known for his exceptional legal skills and aplomb when matters became muddled or worse at meetings of the agency’s 29-member board.

Randy Mills, president of the agency, said in a press release that “James is more than wise counsel at CIRM, he has also been a highly effective leader, responsible for designing and implementing many of CIRM 2.0’s more innovative features.“He is unflappable and maintains a sense of humor and perspective, even in the most challenging of situations. We thank him for his many years of service and wish him the very best.”

Harrison was one of five persons who drafted Proposition 71, the ballot initiative that created the California Institute for Regenerative Medicine or CIRM as the agency is formally known. He is a partner in the Oakland law firm of Remcho, Johansen and Purcell, which also has an office in Sacramento. The firm specializes in political, election, ethics, constitutional and public policy law.

James Harrison

James Harrison

Harrison was known for his work on ballot measures well before he became involved in the Proposition 71 campaign, He also has worked in election law and campaign finance.

Harrison never was formally classified as an employee of the stem cell agency. His services came under a contract with his law firm. For the current fiscal year, that contract amounts to $575,000.

A 2009 memo to the stem cell agency board recounted Harrison’s value to CIRM, ranging from defending its constitutionality to its public records policy. The memo, prepared at the behest of Bob Klein, the agency’s first chairman, said that Harrison had been “has been involved in virtually every aspect of the agency’s operations, including defending the agency in litigation, drafting and reviewing agency policies, advising the agency on conflict of interest issues, and interfacing with constitutional officers and legislators on matters ranging from financing to proposed legislation.”

Mills said that Scott Tocher, deputy general counsel for the agency, will work closely with Harrison to ensure continuity during a transition period. Tocher is also a longtime veteran of CIRM affairs, joining the agency in 2005.

Ed’s Note: David Jensen is a retired newsman who has followed the affairs of the $3 billion California stem cell agency since 2005 via his blog, the California Stem Cell Report, where this story first appeared. He has published more than 4,000 items on California stem cell matters in the past 11 years.

 


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