updated 4/12/2004 8:40:22 AM ET 2004-04-12T12:40:22

The top attorney for Coca-Cola Co. has resigned, ending a three-year tenure in which he dealt with high-profile lawsuits and two ongoing federal investigations.

Deval Patrick, Coke’s highest-ranking black executive, announced he is leaving his position as general counsel for the Atlanta-based company. He will be replaced on an interim basis by chief deputy counsel Geoff Kelly.

Patrick’s resignation is the latest in a series of changes in the top ranks at Coke, which has seen several executives leave and is searching for a new chairman and chief executive officer.

In an internal memo sent to employees Sunday evening, retiring Coke Chairman and CEO Doug Daft said the company was “grateful” for Patrick’s “wisdom and guidance.”

Coke hired Patrick, 47, in early 2001. The hiring came shortly after the company agreed to settle a class-action racial discrimination lawsuit filed by black employees.

Coke faces an ongoing criminal investigation into fraud allegations raised in a whistleblower lawsuit. The Securities and Exchange Commission also is investigating.

The investigations were triggered when a former finance manager sued for wrongful termination, accusing Coke of rigging a marketing test to inflate the popularity of Frozen Coke at Burger King restaurants in Virginia.

Although Patrick is no longer Coke’s general counsel, Daft said he “is making himself available through the end of the year to ensure a smooth transition.”

Before working at Coke, Patrick was general counsel at Texaco and served as assistant attorney general of the Justice Department’s Civil Rights Division from 1994 to 1997.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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