Baskins Quits and Takes the Fifth

The House Energy and Commerce Committee’s hearing on Hewlett-Packard’s boardroom mess hadn’t even begun when one big question was answered: What would HP General Counsel Ann Baskins say, given that she according to the company’s deposed chairwoman, Patricia Dunn approved sketchy investigative methods to figure out who was leaking boardroom discussions.

The answer: not much.

In a Thursday morning letter from her attorneys, Berkeley-based Cristina Arguedas of Arguedas, Cassman & Headley and K. Lee Blalack of O’Melveny & Myers, Baskins announced that she “resigned her positions as Senior Vice President, General Counsel, and Secretary of Hewlett-Packard Company effective today.”

And, the lawyers added, “we also write to inform you that we have instructed Ms. Baskins to invoke her constitutional protection under the Fifth Amendment and, thus, Ms. Baskins will not provide testimony before the Subcommittee today.” (Keep watching for the letter; we’ll post a copy later this morning).

The lawyers also attached several internal HP e-mails, and part of an internal investigation conducted by Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati, that point to another in-house lawyer, Kevin Hunsaker in addition to an outside attorney whose advice Baskins relied on. They said that “pretexting,” or lying to gain someone’s private phone records, was legal.

That notion won’t go over well with the House committee, whose members, in their opening statements, criticized the attorneys.

“Where were the lawyers?” Rep. John Dingell asked in his opening statement, saying the company engaged in what was “probably criminal misbehavior” and “a plumbers’ operation that would make Richard Nixon blush if he were still alive.”

For more highlights of members’ speeches, see the Wired News blog 27B Stroke 6 or the Wall Street Journal‘s Law Blog, which are both doing the blow-by-blow.

Justin Scheck

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