Is Larry Sonsini the Real Villain at Hewlett-Packard or a Scapegoat?

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The Hewlett-Packard mess is rapidly turning into a bloodbath. Board members who leaked to the press have been accused of breaching confidentiality. The non-executive chair Patty Dunn may be ousted when the board resumes its conference call this afternoon. We’ve even heard a few shots at the journalists covering the story—mostly, that journalists will do anything to defend leakers, attack those who seek to plug leaks and are really just interested in this because a few journalists had their phone records purloined.
But if anyone is getting heat for the mess more than Patty Dunn, it seems to be Silicon Valley super-lawyer Larry Sonsini. In passing conversation over the weekend we were told by more than one person that between his firm’s involvement with backdating companies and the H-P scandal, Sonsini may be becoming an issue, a liability, a toxic lawyer.
Rich Karlgaard uses his Digital Rules column on Forbes.com today to label Sonsini “The Bad Guy in the H-P Mess.” He goes on to call for Sonsini’s head.

Sonsini is a disaster. HP should can him. In the most public way.
Come to think of it, Apple, which finds itself distracted by an options backdating scandal, should fire Sonsini, too.

We’re a bit skeptical about all this because, well, we’ve seen how corporate boards play “blame the lawyers” before and it’s not pretty. In fact, catching the flak is arguably one of the things lawyers get paid to do. But letting corporate managers and board members off the hook simply because their conduct was given the green light by a hand-picked lawyer is not exactly a way to blaze a path toward the land of better corporate governance.
On the other hand, there is something vaguely creepy about Sonsini’s email in response to Tom Perkins inquiry about H-P minions spying on the board. Rather than deal with it substantively, Sonsini warns Perkins that he may be breaching his duty of confidentiality by asking a Georgetown law professor about the practice. Now, we don't know what sort of relationship Sonsini has with Perkins. This could be just friendly advise between two friends. But looked at another way, this could be taken as an attempt to intimidate Perkins into backing off the issue. Which would be a very “bad guy” thing to do.
The Bad Guy In The HP Mess [Forbes.com]

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