Donovan adds new role with Redskins

By James V. Grimaldi and Jason Reid
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Washington Redskins have named their general counsel the team's new chief operating officer, a team spokesman said.

David Donovan, 51, will have a dual title, keeping his old title of general counsel while formally taking on the chief operating officer's responsibilities, such as oversight of operations at FedEx Field. The team's in-house counsel since 2005, Donovan previously represented Redskins owner Daniel M. Snyder while in private practice.

The change was "simply [a] reassignment of titles to more accurately reflect job responsibilities since last spring," spokesman Zack Bolno said in an e-mail.

As chief attorney for the Redskins, Donovan is responsible for the club's legal matters. He oversaw lawsuits against at least 125 multiyear premium season ticket holders and more than a dozen skybox renters in the past five years, The Washington Post reported in September. The team won judgments of more than $2 million from 34 season ticket holders, most of whom did not hire an attorney and defaulted by not making an appearance in court.

More than 60 of the lawsuits were filed last year, most of them in October. But this year the team has filed only a handful, with no new cases since The Post's report. Donovan said on the 106.7 FM radio show of Post columnist Mike Wise this week that the team's litigation practices hadn't changed and he always tries to work out arrangements with fans who cannot pay, particularly this year.

"If they can't afford to pay, we drop them" as multiyear premium season ticket holders, Donovan said.

Donovan also has taken the lead for the team defending a controversial new FedEx Field policy banning all handmade signs. He said that fans who had called the radio station and complained to the media were incorrect when they said the move was an attempt to prevent public criticism of Snyder.

"They get in the way of other people viewing the game, and people get poked in the head -- that stuff happens," Donovan said.

Donovan's involvement with the Redskins began during a 20-year stint at the firm WilmerHale, where he represented the estate of former Redskins owner Jack Kent Cooke. The estate had been sued by New York financier Howard Milstein, who withdrew his bid in the auction of the team, contending that the sale had been rigged. Donovan won at trial and on appeal. Milstein then sued Snyder, and Donovan, at that point representing the Redskins owner, prevailed again before an arbitrator, according to an account on WilmerHale's Web site.

Donovan replaces Mitch Gershman, 52, whose new title is chief marketing officer.

Officials declined further comment and would not say why or exactly when the responsibilities had changed for Donovan and Gershman, who oversees the ticket office.

The Washington Post reported last month that team employees, in violation of policy, sold thousands of general admission tickets to brokers, who resold them on the secondary market, often at higher-than-retail prices. The tickets sold to brokers were often for seats that Redskins fans have waited years to get -- seats are so scarce, the team says, that the waiting list for general admission season tickets has 160,000 names on it.

Gershman said that he was unaware that the sales to brokers were taking place at the time, although his name appeared on contracts with brokers for bulk purchases. Donovan said Gershman's name was placed on the contracts using a rubber stamp. "I did not personally sign any of those agreements," Gershman said.

Gershman worked for Snyder's marketing company, Snyder Communications, before joining the football team in 1999 as senior vice president. Gershman had held the chief operating officer position since 2006, when he replaced Dave Pauken, who left the organization for personal reasons.

© 2009 The Washington Post Company