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TJ Donovan leaving attorney general’s post early to take job with online gaming company Roblox

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan at a press conference in Burlington on Sept. 14, 2021. File photo by Glenn Russell/VTDigger

Updated at 6:08 p.m.

Vermont Attorney General TJ Donovan, who last month announced he would not seek reelection when his term ends in January, is stepping down from his post later this month to take another job.

Donovan, in a statement issued Friday afternoon, said he has accepted a job as the director of public policy and U.S. state strategies for the online gaming company Roblox. He will leave office June 20. 

“While this is a difficult decision, I’m excited that this new role will allow me to continue to advance consumer protections,” Donovan said in the statement. “I will also continue to advocate for kids, teens, and their families while learning about and building safeguards into emerging trends and technologies.”

He added that, per state law, Chief Deputy Attorney General Joshua Diamond will “assume and discharge the duties” of the attorney general “unless and until” Gov. Phil Scott fills the vacancy. Diamond’s father, M. Jerome Diamond, served as Vermont’s attorney general from 1975 to 1981.

Four major-party candidates have filed to run for the open seat.

Charity Clark, who served as chief of staff to Donovan before stepping down to campaign, is running against Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault in the Aug. 9 Democratic primary. 

Perennial candidate H. Brooke Paige, on the Republican ticket, and Danby resident Elijah Bergman, on the Progressive side, are the only people running for those parties’ nominations. 

Rebecca Kelley, a spokesperson for the governor, said Friday afternoon that the governor’s office was researching the law and figuring out whether Scott would be making an appointment.  

“We’re looking at our options,” Kelley said, adding that the goal is to “minimize disruption” in the Attorney General’s Office. 

She noted that the governor’s office had only just learned of Donovan’s departure, receiving an emailed letter from the attorney general half an hour before he announced the news in a press release.

When Donovan announced last month he would not be seeking a fourth two-year term, he did not rule out stepping down early. “I would like to,” he said of completing his term. “But I don’t think I can commit to that, just given the reality of the situation.” 

Donovan said Friday afternoon he learned about the opening at Roblox last month from a friend and his hiring was finalized within the past week. Asked how much the position pays, he replied, “That’s my personal information.” 

He said he will be based in Vermont. As for his office, “It may be my kitchen table for the time being,” he said.

Donovan expects to be spending a lot of time working on policy development in his new position. “I would anticipate working with other policymakers in other states across the country,” he said. 

Donovan said his new employer never donated to his campaigns nor was it engaged in any litigation involving his office during his tenure. “We’ve never had any matter or investigation with Roblox,” he said.

His office has been engaged in litigation against social media platforms, joining in with other states in lawsuits regarding child protection and privacy issues.

In response to a question about why Roblox decided on Donovan for the position, Nicky Jackson Colaco, the company’s senior director of global public policy, replied in an email, “Those who have played key roles in government can bring integral skills to the private sector – especially now, given the onset, innovation, and deployment of new technologies.”

Roblox, which allows users to create and share games, is a publicly traded company based in San Mateo, California, with more than 1,200 employees. According to the company, it brings “the world together to play, create, explore, and socialize within millions of 3D virtual worlds.”

PCGamer.com, in a February report headlined, “If Roblox’s daily users were a country, it would be bigger than Canada,” stated that Roblox’s daily active users stood at an “astonishing” 54.7 million, up by a third from January 2021.

Other headlines in recent months haven’t been so flattering. 

For example, a report from the BBC in Feburary was titled, “Roblox: The children’s game with a sex problem.” The Guardian, in January, headlined a report, “The trouble with Roblox, the video game empire built on child labour.”

Also The Street reported earlier this week that Roblox’s shares are down 71% since January.

“The company missed Wall Street’s expectations for two quarters in a row as covid-19 pandemic restrictions eased and users starting (sic) going out again,” the article stated.

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