Sonsini Talks. And It Ain’t Pretty.

Larry Sonsini doesn’t like pretexting. He doesn’t even condone it, he told a congressional subcommittee probing Hewlett-Packard’s boardroom mess. In fact, he wants a law passed to prohibit it. (To help you kill your workday, C-SPAN’s running all the action from Capitol Hill live on its Web site.)

In a short opening statement, Sonsini condemned HP’s use of “pretexting,” or lying, to gain phone records of journalists and its own employees and directors in an investigation over boardroom leaks.

“It is probably illegal,” Sonsini told the committee. “We need to make it clearly illegal.”

That “we” is significant because, in e-mails between Sonsini and former HP Director Thomas Perkins published by various press outlets, the lead partner at Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati seemed to be one of those who thought the practice was legal.

After investigating HP’s problematic leak probe, Sonsini told Perkins, who resigned in protest of pretexting, that it was a “common investigatory method” and appeared to be legal.

Sonsini elaborated on that e-mail in answering questions. Apparently, according to what Sonsini told the committee, his investigation of whether HP’s probe was conducted illegally was limited to some phone calls to HP in-house lawyers the very people who oversaw the investigation.

Sonsini said he asked HP General Counsel Ann Baskins and in-house lawyer Kevin Hunsaker who was overseeing the probe to find out if pretexting was OK. “I immediately turned to Ms. Baskins and Mr. Hunsaker,” he said.

And based on what they said, Sonsini responded to Perkins: “I said to him ‘this is what I’ve been told,'” and that it appeared to be “within the law.”

Justin Scheck

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