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DETROIT, Oct 17 (Reuters) - General Motors Co's top lawyer, whose department was heavily criticized for the handling of a defective ignition switch linked to at least 27 deaths, will retire early next year.
Michael Millikin, 66, informed GM of his decision and the company will immediately begin an external search for his replacement, the No. 1 U.S. automaker said on Friday.
GM has faced criticism this year for waiting 11 years to recall millions of cars with ignition-switch problems that were linked to fatalities.
The switch can slip out of position, stalling the vehicle and disabling air bags, and the defect led to the recall of 2.6 million vehicles earlier this year.
Millikin's legal department came in for heavy criticism in an internal report released by GM in June. Many of the 15 people either fired or forced out by the company were attorneys or worked under Millikin.
Millikin joined GM in 1977 and rose through the ranks. He was named associate general counsel in 2005 and general counsel four years later. (Reporting by Ben Klayman in detroit. Editing by Andre Grenon)