HP dumps Sonsini following phones scandal

Hewlett-Packard (HP) has dumped Silicon Valley firm Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati from its role as primary outside counsel in the wake of the identity fraud scandal surrounding the company.

As of January 1, Wilson Sonsini will no longer be HP’s primary outside counsel. Up until now, the firm has been the go-to legal advisers for HP since the mid-‘90s, with name partner Larry Sonsini not only managing the relationship but also implicated in the company’s recent troubles.

Those problems stemmed from an internal investigation into boardroom leaks to journalists. The company instructed a detective agency, which then in turn employed a private detective to gather information. The detective allegedly used ‘prextexting’, or pretending to be someone else, to obtain information from telephone companies.

On 8 December, HP settled any civil liabilities by paying $14.5m (£7.3m), but chairman Patricia Dunn and senior in-house lawyer and head of ethics Kevin Hunsaker still face criminal charges on four counts of identity fraud.

Sonsini testified in a special hearing on 28 September as part of ongoing efforts by the House Energy & Commerce Committee into pretexting.

He reportedly advised a boardmember that the company’s inquiry was within “the limits of the law” although it has transpired that the opinion allegedly originated with Hunsaker.

When another boardmember resigned, allegedly in anger at the way the investigation was being handled, Sonsini did not report this to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC).

Under US law, if a boardmember resigns because of a disagreement with a company, the SEC must be informed. At the time, Sonsini did not find that the boardmember had stepped down because of a disagreement. An SEC inquiry is now pending.

A spokeswoman for HP said that the company would continue to have a relationship with Wilson Sonsini, a statement repeated by the firm.