HP shareholder suit about to get steamy

Judge in HP lawsuit orders release of letter accusing former CEO of harassment


We may soon be able to read the infamous letter sent to Hewlett-Packard's board of directors that got former CEO Mark Hurd fired.

And according to Business Insider, a person who has read the eight-page document from attorney Gloria Allred says, "It will burn your eyeballs."

(Also see: Legal theater: HP hires lawyers to investigate HP)

Alas, the retina scorching may be mitigated by the heavy redaction expected from the judge presiding over the lawsuit filed by HP shareholders. So we may not see the really good parts. Which would be its own kind of injustice.

The shareholder lawsuit filed in a federal court in San Jose, Calif., alleges HP's board improperly awarded Hurd a lavish severance package upon his resignation last August in the wake of sexual harassment claims by HP freelance contractor and part-time actress Jodie Fisher. Hurd was given up to $53 million upon his departure.

In response to the shareholder action, HP announced its own investigation into Hurd's resignation and compensation. Among those taking part in the HP probe are new CEO Leo Apotheker and Chairman Ray Lane, who are expected to objectively judge the actions and decisions of numerous other board members who signed off on the severance deal.

That should work out really well. I'll take a shot at it and guess that the brunt of the blame will be put on the four directors who recently stepped down. Then HP will say everything's great again and will nicely ask the shareholders to drop their lawsuit. That also should work out really well.

But back to the letter! Hurd opposes its release on the grounds that it is "private," which would be a much stronger argument if the letter actually had been written by him or Fisher, instead of Fisher's attorney.

You also have to wonder if Hurd is less concerned about embarrassing personal revelations -- because, you know, I think his wife is sort of all caught up on the general picture here -- than the allegation that the former HP chief executive in 2008 filled in Fisher on the details of HP's plan to purchase Electronic Data Systems for nearly $14 billion before the deal was announced. The Securities and Exchange Commission tends to frown upon the passing along of insider information regarding public companies, so much so that there are laws against it.

Hurd and Fisher both deny there was a sexual relationship. Interesting, because the parts of the letter Delaware Chancery Court Judge Donald Parsons Jr. has ordered redacted...well, here's one (from the court order):

"On page two, third full paragraph, second sentence: redact the words immediately following the phrase 'You told Ms. Fisher that you were married with two daughters' until the following sentence beginning with 'You asked Ms. Fisher'..."

And another:

"On page seven, first full paragraph: redact the entire rest of the paragraph following the first sentence ending with 'a married man.'"

Sounds like interesting reading. Unfortunately, we have to kill another 10 days (at least) because that's how long the judge has given Hurd and HP to mount another argument in favor of not releasing the letter.

Until then, we await -- eyeballs at the ready.

Chris Nerney writes about the business side of technology market strategies and trends, legal issues, leadership changes, mergers, venture capital, IPOs and technology stocks. Follow him on Twitter @ChrisNerney.

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