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HP Loses a GC

2006 September 28
by John Wallbillich

The Wall Street Journal reported first this morning that general counsel Ann Baskins has resigned. The New York Times picked up the story as well. This comes the very day of expected congressional testimony from HP CEO Mark Hurd and former board chair Patricia Dunn. The Journal reprinted a portion of a letter from lawyers for Ms. Baskins to the committee informing them of her intention to take the Fifth:

“Please understand, however, that Ms. Baskins very much wants to testify and discuss these matters,” her lawyers said in a letter to the House Energy and Commerce Committee. “Were she to do so, we are firmly convinced that the Subcommittee would recognize that she acted legally and ethically at all times. Given the current environment, however, Ms. Baskins simply has no choice.”

The full press release from HP is here. Rather curt, but understandably so.

I have avoided commenting on the HP imbroglio since I don’t like to dissect the legal work of a given corporation without knowing all the facts. Suffice to say that a valid governance concern (boardroom leaks to the press) developed its own inertia that apparently wasn’t adequately controlled over time.

One emerging lesson seems to be that everything comes out in the press eventually and that has to be weighed when examining options. What is possible may not be wise. What is legal may not be right. And I know that some alleged conduct of HP is of dubious legality.

The phrase “the cure is worse than the disease” seems somewhat apt here.

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