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An in-house lawyer who leaked confidential documents to government officials — and threatened additional disclosures if his ex-employer did not agree to help him seek new employment — has been disbarred in North Carolina. Robert L. Petersen Jr., employed as a senior in-house counsel for AT&T’s government markets division from 1995 to 1999, claims he was a “whistleblower” who disclosed private documents to prevent the commission of a crime. “I don’t know what a whistleblower is,” said Carolin Bakewell of the North Carolina State Bar, “but Petersen was disciplined for disclosures after his dismissal in 1999. It was obvious he was trying to parlay his threats into a new job, and his actions were akin to extortion. For whistleblowing, you need evidence of a crime — and it’s my understanding from discovery that there was never any evidence of a crime, or any punitive action against AT&T.” Accordingly, the State Bar’s Disciplinary Hearing Committee disbarred Petersen on Sept. 18, concluding his real motives were to exact “revenge for perceived wrongs done to him by AT&T.” Petersen said he has “no regrets” about any of his actions. “All I was trying to ‘extort’ was AT&T’s compliance with federal regulations, and the correction of my illegal and unfair termination. It’s not like I was asking for a million dollars,” said Petersen. North Carolina is the third state to take disciplinary action against Petersen. Texas officials reprimanded him for his conduct, and the Virginia State Bar also disbarred him earlier this year. THE CONFIDENTIAL DOCUMENTS Petersen’s disclosures involve two documents, the “Tiger Team Report” and the “Thompson Memorandum.” The “Tiger Team Report” is an 80-page internal review of a “flexibiller” billing system used by AT&T’s government markets division in its work with the federal government in 1997. It was assembled by an internal group known as the Tiger Team, and identified problems with the billing system. Petersen was provided a copy of the report by his supervisor and was asked to retain outside counsel for a legal analysis of the report’s findings. The outside attorney later provided Petersen a memorandum outlining various legal issues and problems with the flexibiller system. This document became known as the “Thompson Memorandum.” About six months after he received the “Thompson Memorandum,” Petersen became impatient with AT&T’s progress in addressing the flexibiller system’s deficiencies. He anonymously sent excerpts of the “Tiger Team Report” to the Defense Department’s Defense Contract Audit Agency. When he decided the agency was not acting quickly enough, Petersen sent another anonymous copy of the report to a U.S. Army general and to Mike Armstrong, chief executive officer of AT&T. By 1998, AT&T took steps to address flaws in the flexibiller system, and by November 1998, Petersen knew that AT&T had stopped using it altogether, according to the North Carolina State Bar’s findings of fact. The parties dispute whether Petersen was fired from his job or whether he resigned in February 1999. But before leaving the company, he signed an agreement requiring him not to disclose confidential information and to return to AT&T any documents containing corporate confidences. About eight months later, Petersen wrote to Armstrong and requested his assistance in finding new employment. Petersen attached portions of the Thompson memo and the “Tiger Team Report” to this letter, and said he could disclose them because they had been delivered to him in July 1999, subsequent to his departure, along with other personal belongings from his office. Petersen speculates the documents were sent to him “accidentally,” but considered them — and any confidences contained in them — exempt from his prior agreement with AT&T. When AT&T failed to assist Petersen, the disclosures and threats continued. In October 1999, Petersen left a series of voice mails with Dan Stark, another AT&T supervisor. He asked Stark for help in finding a job, and disclosed confidential information to family and friends when he did not receive an immediate response. He also threatened to meet with Department of Defense officials, the press “and probably Justice,” according to North Carolina’s findings. This conduct prompted AT&T to file for an injunction in federal court. The parties reached a settlement in January 2000, and Petersen agreed to stop talking and to turn over all AT&T-related documents. But later the same month, Petersen made additional disclosures to friends and relatives, and began placing calls to the Defense Department. Petersen also threatened to disclose confidential information to a senator, the media and the Securities and Exchange Commission. In January 2001, a federal judge found Petersen in contempt for violating the January 2000 consent injunction — yet Petersen’s conduct continued through April 2002. The North Carolina State Bar served Petersen with a summons and complaint in February 2002. Although he filed an answer, he failed to respond to discovery requests, and the allegations against him were deemed admitted. AT&T refused to comment on any aspect of the case. “It is our standard policy not to issue statements on matters regarding employees who no longer work for the company,” a spokeswoman said. Still a member of the State Bar of Texas, Petersen said he is seeking a legal position in that state, or employment elsewhere as a professor.

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