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Apple’s new top lawyer: The end of 3 years of legal musical chairs?

Bruce Sewell. Photo: Intel Corp.

In a bit of high-level counsel swapping, Apple (AAPL) announced on Tuesday that it had hired Bruce Sewell to be its general counsel, one day after Intel (INTC) reported Sewell’s resignation.

The hire marks the end of a game of legal musical chairs that dates back to the 2006 options backdating scandal, when Nancy Heinen, Steve Jobs’ long-time consigliere, was thrown under the bus.

Sewell, who had worked for Intel for 14 years, replaces Daniel Cooperman, whose retirement in less than two weeks was announced in the same press release.

Cooperman, in turn, had left Oracle (ORCL) for Apple just as Donald Rosenberg, Heinen’s replacement, was leaving Apple for Qualcomm (QCOM). Cooperman had held the job for less than two years. Rosenberg for less than one.

Nancy Heinen was Apple’s general counsel for nearly nine years, but her history with Jobs went back to their days as NeXT.

She left Apple in May 2006 — and retained a couple of criminal lawyers — shortly before the company admitted to irregularities in the dating of certain stock options.

In April 2007, the SEC filed charges alleging that she caused Apple to backdate large option grants — many for Jobs himself — altered corporate records to hide the actions, and lied about it to investigators.

Heinen and Fred Anderson, then Apple’s CFO and now a managing director of Elevation Partners, were the only Apple executives to face charges in the case. He settled with the SEC immediately. She settled last year — without admitting or denying the SEC’s charges — and paid a total of $2.2 million in penalties and repayments.

Sewell joins Apple as a senior vice president, reporting directly to Jobs. According to 9to5Mac‘s Jonny Evans, he’s worked for Apple before — indirectly. Before joining Intel, he was part of the team at Brown and Bain that representing Apple in its copyright infringement case against Microsoft (MSFT) over use of Apple’s graphical user interface.

“We are thrilled to have Bruce join our executive team, and wish Dan a very happy retirement,” Jobs said in a prepared statement. “We expect this to be a seamless transition.”