The gig: John Rogovin, 52, is executive vice president and general counsel for Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. As the top legal eagle for the storied movie and television studio, Rogovin oversees a staff of more than 160 lawyers and is involved in such matters as structuring production deals, copyright issues, contract disputes with talent and fights over intellectual property.
Beltway insider: Born and raised in Washington, Rogovin was a Capitol Hill insider before he could crawl. His father, Mitchell Rogovin, was chief counsel at the Internal Revenue Service in President Johnson’s administration and special counsel to the Central Intelligence Agency in the mid-1970s. Although Rogovin knew what his dad did for a living, pronouncing it was another story. “When I was 6 or 7 I used to run around the house saying, ‘I want to be a liar just like Daddy,’” Rogovin said, laughing. “He called it ‘lawyering.’ I thought it was lying.”
Cool neighbors: With a hotshot lawyer for a father and neighbors such as investigative journalists Seymour Hersh and Neil Sheehan (whom Mitchell Rogovin represented when the government went after him for his Pentagon Papers series in the New York Times), Rogovin was drawn to debate as a student at the tony preparatory school St. Albans. He also developed a mean game of tennis, which he notes is “the Washington thing to do.”
Chip off the old block: After graduating from Columbia University, Rogovin headed below the Mason-Dixon line for law school at the University of Virginia, planning to follow in his father’s footsteps. Rogovin said it was “watching him and seeing how excited he was and how tenacious he was” at work that made him want to take the same path.
Go your own way: With law degree in hand, Rogovin returned to Washington with thoughts of joining his father in private practice. But his father had other ideas. “He told me, ‘If you are any good you can do better and if you are no good, I don’t need you.’ That was sort of a formative moment.”
Friend of Bill: Rogovin landed at the high-powered law firm of O’Melveny & Myers in the early 1990s. A co-worker’s boyfriend was working for Bill Clinton’s presidential campaign and hooked Rogovin up with the transition team, which also meant moving to Little Rock, Ark. Not only was there a culture shock, but it also gave Rogovin his first taste of swimming with sharks. “It was something of a brutal environment. There is a saying that the campaign is the time when you try to screw your enemy and the transition is the time when you try to screw your friends.”
Halls of Justice: The night before the inauguration, Rogovin got a call from Clinton advisor Harold Ickes wanting to know if he had any interest in working at the Justice Department. He jumped at the chance and eventually became head of the department’s Federal Programs Branch, which is basically charged with defending the government against constitutional challenges to federal statutes. Among the highlights: defending the military’s “don’t ask, don’t tell” policy on gay service members and Hillary Clinton’s healthcare reform effort.
Revolving door: The next few years Rogovin did the Washington dance between private practice and public service. He left the Justice Department to go back to O’Melveny, where he worked closely with GTE Corp. on the 1996 Telecommunications Act, and then became general counsel of the Federal Communications Commission for four years before going back to private practice. “I wanted to follow in the footsteps of people like [former Secretary of State and O’Melveny partner] Warren Christopher, who went back and forth in that Washington way.”
An offer he couldn’t refuse: Although Rogovin was quite content working the corridors of power, when Warner Bros. approached him about becoming its general counsel, he jumped at the opportunity. “It was like joining the New York Yankees,” he said. The job appealed to him both professionally — “the legal issues facing the content community are the most novel, interesting and exciting” — and personally — “it was a great adventure for us as a family.”
Learning curve: Working at a Hollywood studio was a big adjustment. “You know you are in an unusual environment when to find out what’s the latest you click on TMZ,” he said. But Rogovin caught on fast. His biggest triumphs include beating back a challenge to Warner Bros.’ rights to the Superman character and negotiating a peace treaty with Charlie Sheen after the actor was fired from the hit Warner Bros. series “Two and a Half Men.” “Nothing could prepare you for that,” Rogovin said of the epic Sheen battle.
Off the lot: When he’s not sorting through contracts and lawsuits, Rogovin still plays tennis a few times a week. He’s also trying his hand at being a chef but warns, “No one would like to eat my cooking.” He resides in Bel-Air with his wife, Jaye, and two daughters.