A California judge today dismissed charges against Patricia C. Dunn, the former chairwoman of Hewlett-Packard, in a corporate spying case that grabbed national headlines and prompted Congressional hearings on protection of personal phone records.
Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Ray Cunningham also agreed to dismiss a reduced misdemeanor charge against three other defendants in the case once they each perform 96 hours of community service. Ms. Dunn and the other three defendants had initially been charged with four felony counts for their participation in a cloak-and-dagger investigation inside H.P., one of the world’s largest computer companies.
That investigation was set in motion when officials at the company, including Ms. Dunn, sought to ferret out the identity of company insiders leaking information to the press.
Some of the actual investigative work ended up in the hands of private detectives who misrepresented themselves to phone companies to get access to the call records of company directors and journalists. The case sparked interest in the use of this tactic — known as pretexting — and raised broad questions about privacy in the digital age.
But the judge’s decision is a vindication for the defendants, who briefly became symbols of the challenge of balancing corporate responsibility and individual privacy rights.
Those charged along with Ms. Dunn were Kevin Hunsaker, a former ethics director at H.P., and two private investigators, Ronald DeLia and Matthew Depante.
The case’s outcome came after several weeks of negotiations between lawyers for the defendants and the office of the California attorney general, Jerry Brown.