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HP May be Sued by Reporters in Probe, Lawyers Say

Several journalists targeted by Hewlett-Packard in the company's hunt for the source of boardroom leaks are seeking damages for alleged invasion of privacy, their lawyers said on
Monday.

The reporters, from the New York Times, BusinessWeek and technology media company CNET Networks , have hired attorneys to seek financial compensation and may sue.

HP has "done something illegal and they've caused severe damage," said San Francisco attorney Terry Gross, who represents three BusinessWeek reporters targeted in the HP probe as well as New York Times reporter John Markoff and the New York Times. "They should provide adequate compensation."

HP, the world's largest personal computer maker, hired private investigators to find out who was leaking sensitive boardroom information to the media beginning in 2005.

The uproar over the probe led to the resignations of former Chairman Patricia Dunn and two top company lawyers; state prosecutors filed criminal charges against Dunn and three others. A judge later dismissed the case against Dunn and offered dismissals to three others on condition that they complete community service by September.

In some cases, private investigators hired by HP used false pretenses to obtain reporters' and board members' phone records, according to HP directors who acknowledged the probe last year. Investigators also sought ways to search reporters' home trash bins, although it is unclear whether they were successful.

HP spokesman Ryan Donovan declined to comment on the potential litigation. No lawsuits have yet been filed by the journalists against the Palo Alto, California-based company.

Attorney Kevin Boyle in Los Angeles said he planned to sue HP on behalf of CNET reporters Dawn Kawamoto, Stephen Shankland and Tom Krazit, as well as their families.

Boyle said his lawsuit would seek unspecified compensation for damages as well as punitive damages. "This kind of conduct is not to be tolerated in this country," Boyle said. Reporters "are being chilled by this kind of conduct."

Gross said he represents BusinessWeek reporters Peter Burrows, Ben Elgin and Roger Crockett. "We remain hopeful that HP will do the right thing, provide reasonable compensation to the journalists and avoid litigation," Gross said.

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