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3.1.07 Perkins, Dunn lawyer in spitting match

At a venture capital event in San Francisco Tuesday, Tom Perkins issued some stinging words for Patricia Dunn, and yesterday Dunn's lawyer struck back. The HP spying scandal ranks with the Iraq war for behavior that makes no sense for the stated reasons. Perkins offered a reason for the whole pretexting fiasco: an effort by the "compliance" directors to finally oust the "guidance" directors. CNET News.com explains:

In Perkins' view, HP's board was split between two types of directors: "guidance" directors like himself who wanted to spend board meetings concentrating on ways to beat Dell and IBM, and "compliance" directors who were obsessed with the Sarbanes-Oxley Act, social responsibility campaigns and regulatory issues that were less germane to the company's survival.

The scandal was the final act in a plan by the compliance directors to oust the guidance directors, he said. The fact that HP hired investigators to get the phone records of reporters and board members is a red herring in the whole drama, he said. Dunn was mostly after control, he added.

"In spite of being indicted on four counts by the California attorney general, it is clear that former Chairman Patti Dunn won the battle," Perkins said. "I see this embarrassing public mess as a culmination of a war over the control over the board of the company."

Dunn's lawyer, James Brosnahan, issued an angry email retort yesterday, sent out to major business news publications and published on PR Newswire. In its entirety, then:

Yesterday, a man named Tom Perkins attacked my client. He did so unfairly. He did so falsely when he knows she cannot answer him. The case brought by the former Attorney General at the insistence of Tom Perkins is pending in Santa Clara Superior Court. Mr. Perkins generated an attack on Patricia Dunn, hired lawyers, hired a public relations firm and all because his colleague on the Hewlett Packard board was found to be leaking information. Now he is attempting to further prejudice the public against Patricia Dunn. As Mr. Perkins and his lawyers know, because the case is pending, Patricia Dunn cannot answer Mr. Perkins' gratuitous attack. Mr. Perkins himself is a witness in the case. He will be sworn. He will be examined, and he will be impeached.

Mr. Perkins has rewritten the history of the Hewlett Packard board and attacked its competence. Others closer to that company can stand up and be counted if they wish. He has suggested that he alone cares about a profit. Rarely has a prominent businessman uttered such an immediate self-refuting statement. Hewlett Packard is Hewlett Packard and it seems to be getting along quite well without Mr. Perkins.

I am sorry that Patricia Dunn must endure Mr. Perkins' cowardly attacks, but he has made the biggest mistake of his career. He is a bully, and he is bullying the wrong people.

If Mr. Perkins truly wishes to have a public dialogue on these issues, he should join in the chorus of people who have urged that the criminal case against Ms. Dunn be dropped. In that event, Ms. Dunn would be free to respond personally to Mr. Perkins' attacks.

Finally, all of this was done, in part at least, to promote a book that he has coming out in October. He says he has a chapter in it on Hewlett Packard. When he gets to court, he will be cross-examined on every word.