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White-Collar Team Jumps Ship to Baker Donelson

White-collar defense lawyer Joe Whitley has joined Baker, Donelson, Bearman, Caldwell & Berkowitz from Greenberg Traurig to head the firm’s white-collar defense practice nationally and launch a white-collar team in Atlanta.

Whitley, who joined Baker Donelson as a shareholder on Monday, is a former U.S. attorney for the Northern and Middle Districts of Georgia and was the first general counsel of the Department of Homeland Security, established in response to the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

“Joe has the exact experience we need,” said Linda Klein, the managing shareholder of Baker Donelson’s Georgia offices. “He not only has experience in white-collar criminal defense, he’s also experienced in health care fraud, cybersecurity, import-export and immigration issues.”

Jason Edgecombe also made the move from Greenberg Traurig, joining Baker Donelson as of counsel. Edgecombe was part of King & Spalding’s white-collar defense practice for more than a decade until joining Greenberg Traurig in 2013.

Whitley called his move to Baker Donelson a great opportunity. “Baker Donelson has a wonderful Southern footprint,” he said, adding that he grew up in Columbus. The firm, based in Memphis, has 700 lawyers, mostly in the Southeast, Texas and Florida. Whitley will have an office in Washington as well as Atlanta.

He said the firm’s institutional clients, particularly in health care, were a draw. “The firm has a large presence in Nashville, the epicenter of health care in the United States, which was an important factor in my decision,” Whitley said. “After terrorism, it’s one of the top two or three [government] enforcement issues.”

Whitley, 63, was appointed the U.S. attorney for the Middle District of Georgia in 1981 by President Ronald Reagan. He was only 31 at the time. That was followed by a stint in Washington as deputy associate attorney general for the Department of Justice and an appointment by President George H.W. Bush in 1990 to serve as U.S. attorney for the Northern District of Georgia.

He joined Kilpatrick Townsend & Stockton in 1993, then moved to Alston & Bird in 1997 to head that firm’s white-collar practice. He served as DHS’s general counsel from 2003 to 2006, then returned to Alston & Bird before joining Greenberg Traurig in 2008 to head the firm’s Atlanta white-collar practice.

Whitley declined to name clients and said it was too soon to say whether they would follow him to his new firm.

He said that in addition to health care, he’s recently worked on cases involving the Foreign Corrupt Practices Act and U.S. export controls and compliance. He’s handled cases involving defense contractors accused of violating regulations that certain goods for the U.S. military must be manufactured domestically. He’s also handling a salmonella contamination case under investigation by the Food and Drug Administration.

“I see a trendline of regulatory cases becoming criminalized,” he said.

The Atlanta managing partner of Greenberg Traurig, Ernest Greer, wished Whitley well. “We are very thankful for Joe’s contributions to the firm,” he said.

Greer said his 1,750-lawyer firm still has three or four lawyers in Atlanta who handle white-collar and governmental work, including health care issues. Overall, he said, the firm has 50 white-collar practitioners, including several former U.S. attorneys.

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