SC Lawyer, November 2006, #6. Changing the paradigm.

AuthorBy John Freeman

South Carolina Lawyer

Ethics Columns.

SC Lawyer, November 2006, #6.

Changing the paradigm

South Carolina LawyerNovember 2006Changing the paradigmBy John FreemanOur mommas told each of us, "The ends do not justify the means," but some of us were not listening closely to what Momma was saying when she was trying to help us. For example, lawyer Ann Baskins evidently was AWOL that day. Until recently, Ms. Baskins was Hewlett-Packard's general counsel. She resigned that lofty position on the same day she declined to testify ("as advised by her lawyers") before a U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee exploring Hewlett-Packard's allegedly criminal behavior in seeking to plug leaks to the press by board members.

Nothing was wrong with the end H-P and Ms. Baskins sought to achieve. After all, stopping people holding fiduciary offices from blabbing to reporters about important information received in confidence is a laudable goal. Using false pretenses ("pretexting" by private investigators) to achieve that end is a means condemned by various laws and multiple provisions of the Rules of Professional Conduct, including Rules 4.4 (unethical to gather evidence using means that violate third person's rights) and 5.3 (duty to supervise non-lawyers "employed or retained by or associated with a lawyer"). As a result of warped business judgment and no attention to legal ethics at all, an admired corporate icon has taken a serious reputational hit.

For Ms. Baskins, the consequences are apt to be more than reputational. Twenty-six years of faithful service to her corporate client ended the same day she asserted the Fifth Amendment in the face of a Congressional subpoena. Still looming is the possibility Ms. Baskins may be drawn into proceedings instituted by California's Attorney General or the U.S. Attorney's Office addressing the investigation she supervised.

Though she is now unemployed, Ms. Baskins did not leave Hewlett-Packard penniless. Press reports put her severance package's value in excess of $4.6 million, putting aside her interests in various H-P retirement plans. One strongly suspects that Ms. Baskins would gladly give the severance millions and a great deal more to have back the good job and the good name she lost when she trusted fools to use proper means to do investigative work for her.

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