University of Pittsburgh

Doug Branson on Piling On at H-P

Professor Douglas Branson has published an op-ed at JURIST's Forum site on the continuing implications of the Hewlett-Packard boardroom spying scandal.  Here's a sample:
As the saga at H-P unfolds, additional principles emerge, giving more guidance. One very fundamental universal evident here is that, when the pendulum swings, the pendulum never stops at dead center, or anywhere near that point. As here, the pendulum continues to swing, all the way to the stops on the other side.
To use another metaphor, this one from football, with indictments and threatened criminal prosecutions, there may be a bit or more of "piling on" in the Hewlett-Packard affair. I have no sympathy for the professional operatives here. They know what is permissible and what is not. California Attorney General Lockyer should have his subordinates prosecute them to the fullest extent of the law. Pretexting is not only prohibited by statutes but it seems morally reprehensible. The corporate defendants (Dunn and Hunsaker) say they thought about the legality of the tactics used but were advised by counsel that pretexting was permissible. Moreover, counsel was none other than Larry Sonsini, maybe the most powerful person in Silicon Valley (at least after Oracle CEO Larry Ellison). Is the indictment of corporate players here post-Enron, post WorldCom morality? Yes, it is. The invocation of principles from those cases is very reminiscent of "post Watergate morality" and the more than a bit of hypocrisy which surfaced in the 1970s. Does the prospective punishment fit the crime? No, it does not. Enron and WorldCom investors lost tens of billions of dollars. No one lost a dime at H-P. Ten of thousands lost their jobs as Enron vaporized and WorldCom entered bankruptcy (although WorldCom always did remain a very large and viable company, which emerged from bankruptcy as MCI, Inc., now part of Verizon, Inc.). Except for Hunsaker and Dunn, no one at Hewlett-Packard lost their positions.
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