Charges Dropped Against Dunn in HP Spy Case

A California judge dismisses felony charges against Patricia Dunn, former chairwoman of Hewlett-Packard. Her case spotlighted corporate spy tactics. She was accused of ordering what turned out to be an overzealous hunt for boardroom news leaks.

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RENEE MONTAGNE, host:

And the former chairwoman of Hewlett-Packard has been cleared of criminal charges for her role in a high-profile corporate spying case. NPR's Scott Horsley reports.

SCOTT HORSLEY: Patricia Dunn as forced to step down as Hewlett-Packard's chairwoman last fall, after it was revealed the company had used private investigators to improperly obtain phone records of its own board members and reporters. In October, California's then attorney general brought felony charges against Dunn, saying the person who orchestrated the spying should be held accountable.

But yesterday a judge dropped the case against Dunn. Her attorney, Jim Brosnahan, calls that the right result.

Mr. JIM BROSNAHAN (Patricia Dunn's Attorney): The fact is that Patti Dunn had always sought the advice of the lawyers about to make sure whatever they were doing was legal and proper and had always been told that it was.

HORSLEY: One of the lawyers who provided that assurance and two investigators hired to carry out the spying pleaded no contest yesterday to a single misdemeanor. All three were ordered to perform community service. Brosnahan says despite that relatively light sentence, and the dismissal of charges against Dunn, spying won't necessarily be treated lightly in the future.

Mr. BROSNAHAN: My guess is that businesspeople have learned an important lesson about the dangers of investigation.

HORSLEY: The HP case prompted Congress to pass a law against posing as someone to obtain their phone records. HP itself paid a civil fine of more than $14 million, some of which will be used to prosecute privacy complaints.

Scott Horsley, NPR News, San Diego.

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