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Jeff Thomas of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP (HANDOUT).Jeff Thomas of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP (HANDOUT). ()

Jeffrey Thomas knew how he had to set it up. The three-decade litigation veteran at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher’s Orange County office had worked for years on Hewlett-Packard’s breach of contract suit against Oracle Corp., carrying it to success in a phase-one bench trial in 2012. So by the time the phase-two jury trial began this May, with $3 billion on the line, his strategy was clear.

“I thought what was crucial was–first of all–for the jury to understand how the relationship between HP and Oracle had existed,” said Thomas. Painting a picture of the once-rosy ties between the companies, and establishing that the contract required the same kind of continued cooperation, set the stage for depicting Oracle as the party that had gotten hot-headed and wrecked it all.

That narrative seemed to crystallize as Thomas grilled Oracle chairman Larry Ellison on the witness stand, getting Ellison to admit that he hadn’t even looked at the contract when he decided to pull the plug on software development for HP’s lucrative Itanium server business. Ellison also copped to being angry at members of HP’s board for forcing out his friend, Mark Hurd, who later moved to Oracle.

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