Hard Choices

Former Hewlett-Packard Chairman Patricia Dunn


I was standing in Nordstrom buying a new jacket when my lawyer called to tell me that the California attorney general (Bill Lockyer) was filing four felony charges against me. It was Oct. 4, 2006, the day I was being interviewed by 60 Minutes.

Leslie Stahl later told me that when she heard charges had been filed, she assumed I would cancel the interview. Lawyers are loath to have their clients make any public statement when they're facing charges, but we decided, risk or no risk, I would go ahead and tell my story. I wanted to overturn all of the inaccuracies that were out there with respect to my role at HP (HPQ)—that I was the boss when I wasn't even an employee, that I had somehow overseen this controversial investigation, and that I had done anything wrong.

I was facing four felonies and 12 years in jail. A few months later, I was offered a chance to plead guilty to a misdemeanor, which meant no jail time, but I felt so sure of the facts. I didn't pay much attention to what the other people charged were going to do. I had one goal in mind: to clear my name.

I was fully prepared to go to trial, and accepting a misdemeanor would have undermined my whole purpose. I assumed it would be a long fight. I was battling cancer, and I needed to feel like I would be alive to see my way to the end. I couldn't take the offer of a guilty plea. I knew I had to fight.

I was pleased with what the judge wrote about why the charges were dismissed in 2007. The key reason was that it was in the interest of justice. The prosecutors said it was because of health reasons, but they didn't have a case. I'm not sure how being treated for advanced ovarian cancer affected my decisions, but I guess it made me more conscious of what really mattered.

Some of this experience was negative and unhappy, but it didn't ruin my life. I've expanded my work in the nonprofit community. You can move beyond something like this. I don't see it as having defined me.


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