(Updates with lawyer comments in third paragraph.)
Oct. 12 (Bloomberg) -- Lawyers for former Hewlett-Packard Co. Chief Executive Officer Mark Hurd sought to keep secret a letter about his relationship with contractor Jodie Fisher, contending in Delaware Supreme Court today that the contents are private.
In March, Delaware Chancery Court Judge Donald Parsons Jr. ruled that a copy of the letter, with a few redactions, be made public. The order was stayed after Hurd appealed to the state’s high court.
“The right to public access is non-existent,” and the parties have “a constitutional right to privacy,” Hurd’s lawyer, Rolin P. Bissell, told the justices at a public hearing in Dover.
Publicizing the letter will provide “a full opportunity to air out” background details of Hurd’s departure,’’ Felipe Arroyo, a lawyer for shareholder Ernesto Espinoza, told the panel.
The letter was sent to Hurd by Fisher’s lawyer, Gloria Allred, and is part of a Chancery case filed by Espinoza seeking access to company books and records. The letter contains accusations of sexual harassment and details of Hurd’s alleged advances toward Fisher and her rejection of them, according to Parsons’s ruling.
August 2010 Resignation
Hurd is now president of software maker Oracle Corp. He resigned from Palo Alto, California-based HP in August 2010 after a company investigation determined he violated its standards of business conduct. HP said it didn’t find that Hurd had violated the company’s sexual-harassment policy.
Espinoza also wants to see an internal report prepared for the HP board by lawyers at Covington & Burling LLP as part of his investigation into possible waste by directors. Parsons on March 25 denied Espinoza access to the report.
“The Covington report is essential to understanding the deliberative process of the board when it made its decision not to fire Hurd,” and give him a severance package of as much as $40 million, Espinoza lawyer Blake Bennett said in court papers.
“Plaintiff did not demonstrate the requisite need for the report to assess the board’s decisions” because other information is available, said Hewlett-Packard’s attorney, Peter J. Walsh Jr., in a pre-hearing document.
The letter was sent to Hurd by Allred in an attempt to arrange private mediation with Fisher. It includes allegations that Hurd misused corporate funds to “wine and dine Fisher” and leaked potential non-public information about the company to her, Parsons said in his ruling.
The Chancery case is Espinoza v. Hewlett-Packard Co., CA6000, Delaware Chancery Court (Wilmington). The appeal is Hurd v. Spinoza, 167, 2001, Delaware Supreme Court (Dover).
--With assistance from Dawn McCarty in Wilmington, Delaware. Editors: Glenn Holdcraft, Stephen Farr
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