UPDATE 2-GM's top lawyer, hammered during recall hearing in Congress, to retire

Fri Oct 17, 2014 3:14pm EDT
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(Adds senator, GM comments, background)

By Ben Klayman

DETROIT Oct 17 (Reuters) - General Motors Co's top lawyer will retire early next year, months after his department was heavily criticized for how it handled the automaker's defective ignition switch that has been linked to at least 27 deaths.

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. He will remain general counsel, a position he has held since 2009, until a successor is named.

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.

GM declined to make Millikin available to comment, and he could not be reached.

One critic believed Milliken may have been pressured by the company to retire.

"Millikin is under the microscope for his failures and his allowing GM to face potential criminal prosecution as a result of the ignition switch cover-up," said Robert Hilliard, a lead attorney for plaintiffs suing GM over the faulty switch.   Continued...