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Ann Baskins has spent almost her entire career at Hewlett-Packard Co., and has been general counsel there for the last six years. Now she finds herself at � or at least very near � the center of the growing storm over the boardroom investigation at the computing giant. Newspaper stories detailing the crisis � kicked off by HP Chairwoman Patricia Dunn’s decision to investigate leaks to the press by fellow board members � place Baskins at several key junctures in the ongoing saga. The controversy so far has led to a criminal investigation by the state attorney general and public sniping by famed venture capitalist and now ex-HP director Thomas Perkins at HP outside counsel Wilson Sonsini Goodrich & Rosati. Baskins, one of the most prominent female general counsel in the country, may figure into investigations now under way into how HP obtained phone records of its directors. Press accounts say Baskins had first asked Wilson Sonsini’s Larry Sonsini to investigate possible leaks, then later called on him to probe the methods used by an undisclosed third party in a subsequent investigation. That probe apparently included the checking of board members’ personal phone records. In a June e-mail exchange with Perkins, Sonsini said he was not involved in the third-party investigation, according to documents posted(.pdf) Thursday on the Wall Street Journal Web site. “The investigation was run by the HP legal department with outside experts. � I am sure that Ann Baskins looked into the legality of every step of the inquiry and was satisfied it was conducted properly,” Sonsini stated in one e-mail. In a subsequent e-mail, he added that the investigatory methods had been checked with unidentified “outside counsel.” Baskins may also be called on to explain the company’s decision to disclose as routine Perkins’ angry exit from the board. An HP spokesman said Baskins declined to comment for this story. Baskins, who is about 50, graduated from Stanford University and obtained her law degree from UCLA. A summer job with an in-house legal department shaped her career path. “People enjoyed their jobs and had a clear understanding of business because they were part of it,” she recalled in an interview with The Recorder in 2000.

Follow all the coverage of Hewlett-Packard’s boardroom spying scandal � and the continuing legal fallout.

Baskins joined HP in 1982 after briefly working at Crosby, Heafey, Roach & May. She worked her way up the ranks and, less than a year after Carly Fiorina became HP’s CEO in 1999, was tapped to succeed Jack Brigham, the first corporate attorney at Hewlett-Packard and GC since 1976. HP’s legal department has more than 300 lawyers. It dishes work to a long list of firms, including Wilson, as well as Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher; DLA Piper; Hunton & Williams; Littler Mendelson; Morgan, Lewis & Bockius and Irell & Manella. During her career, Baskins has steered HP through a series of deals and suits and, more recently, mergers and related corporate restructurings. She helped with the spin-off of Agilent Technologies, which she described in 2000 as part of HP’s “reinvention process.” Baskins played a visible role in the legal infighting that came with Fiorina’s decision to acquire Compaq Computer in 2002. When dissident HP heirs tried to block the acquisition, Baskins teamed up with Sonsini and other Wilson lawyers to defeat that effort in court. Though the drama has yet to play out, there are already calls, in some quarters, for Baskins to be fired. “By all accounts, HP’s general counsel Ann Baskins showed extremely bad judgment during the affair,” wrote David Kirkpatrick, a Fortune senior editor, in a Sept. 7 analysis. “CEO Mark Hurd ought to fire her immediately, along with anyone else who is determined to have played a critical role in hiring or defending investigators who behaved improperly.”

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