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U.S. court orders letter in HP-Hurd case to be unsealed

March 6, 2008, file photo of former Hewlett Packard CEO Mark Hurd.

Paul Sakuma/AP/Paul Sakuma/AP

An appeals court ruled that a letter linked to Mark Hurd's abrupt departure from his post as chief of Hewlett-Packard Co. should be unsealed, potentially revealing new details about his dramatic exit from the technology giant.

Delaware Supreme Court Justice Carolyn Berger said in an opinion dated Wednesday that while the letter contained "embarrassing detail about Hurd's behavior," it did not describe any "intimate conversations or conduct."

Legal experts said the ruling means the public will almost certainly get to read the disputed document.

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"The Delaware Supreme Court is the final word on corporate law matters, so this would be the end of the process," said Kevin Brady, a partner with Connolly Bove Lodge & Hutz LLP.

The letter was sent to Mr. Hurd from Gloria Allred, a high-profile California attorney, on behalf of independent contractor Jodie Fisher, who had accused him of sexual harassment. It prompted the world's top computer maker to investigate Mr. Hurd, who is now a president at rival Oracle Corp. .

Ms. Fisher has previously said that the letter contains "many inaccuracies." Both Oracle and Mr. Hurd's attorney reiterated this on Thursday.

"This letter was recanted by Ms. Fisher. She admitted it was full of inaccuracies," Oracle senior vice-president Ken Glueck said in an e-mailed response to Reuters. He did not comment further.

Mr. Hurd's attorney, Amy Wintersheimer, said in a statement on Thursday that her client had wanted to keep the letter confidential for that reason as well.

"The truth is, there never was any sexual harassment, which HP's investigation confirmed, and there never was any sexual relationship, which Ms. Fisher has confirmed," Ms. Wintersheimer said.

Although HP's board found no evidence of sexual harassment, Mr. Hurd stepped down after the company accused him of filing inaccurate expense reports involving Ms. Fisher.

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The decision affirms a March 18 ruling by the Delaware Chancery Court, which ordered that most of the contents of the letter would be made public within 10 days.

The judge ordered that some portions of the letter would remain under seal. For example, the order read, "On page seven, first full paragraph: redact the entire rest of the paragraph following the first sentence ending with 'a married man.'"

Some of the letter's details have already been released in court documents. The Chancery Court's 71-page ruling on the matter in March noted that the letter accused Mr. Hurd of using corporate funds to "wine and dine" Ms. Fisher and leaked to her "potentially material" nonpublic information about the company.

The dispute over the letter stems from a lawsuit by a shareholder, Ernesto Espinoza, who is seeking HP's records relating to Mr. Hurd's resignation and severance package. The company agreed the letter was not confidential, but Mr. Hurd intervened in the case to fight to keep it from the public.

Representatives for Hewlett-Packard, Oracle and Mr. Espinoza declined comment.

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