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News Briefs

HP Trial Opens Tuesday in Delaware


At 9:30 a.m. here Tuesday, a Delaware judge will open the trial in a case that has transfixed Silicon Valley: Walter Hewlett’s claim that Hewlett-Packard executives bought votes and lied to shareholders in their quest to win shareholder approval for the purchase of Compaq Computer.

Walter Hewlett, son of HP’s co-founder and a board member of the company, led the efforts by the Hewlett and Packard families to defeat the $20 billion deal.

After shareholders narrowly approved the merger at a raucous shareholder meeting March 19, Hewlett filed suit in Delaware, where HP is legally incorporated, asking the court to order a revote or declare the merger defeated.

In the three-day trial before Chancellor William Chandler III, Hewlett’s lawyers plan to argue that HP coerced at least one major shareholder, the Deutsche Asset Management unit of Deutsche Bank, to support the deal.

Hewlett alleges that HP threatened to withhold future business from Deutsche Bank if the investment bank did not vote its HP shares for the merger. Deutsche is believed to have switched 17 million anti-merger votes to favor the deal in the final hours before the polls closed.

Employers Quick to Use Court Ruling to Deny Workers’ Rights


Employers across the United States are testing the limits of a recent Supreme Court decision to deny back pay to an undocumented worker, seeking to use the ruling to avoid minimum wage and workers’ compensation awards, even asking for the documents of a worker who complained of sexual harassment, according to advocates for low-wage workers.

The swift employer response, along with widespread misunderstanding of the court’s intent, has heightened a sense of distress building in immigrant communities through months of recession and the war on terrorism, the advocates said.

“Everyone is reeling from this,” said Della Bahan, a Pasadena, Calif., attorney representing immigrant janitors in a class-action lawsuit alleging wage and hour violations. “It’s created a lot of confusion and a lot of fear. However it’s ultimately interpreted, the overall message is, ‘You complain at your peril.’”

On March 27, the high court ruled 5-4 that because he was undocumented, a worker at a Southern California chemical plant could not collect thousands of dollars in back pay after he was illegally fired for union-organizing activities. The court determined that the worker’s violation of immigration law overrode the employer’s violation of labor laws.

Former Sotheby’s Chairman Jailed in Price-Fixing Trial


A federal judge on Monday sentenced A. Alfred Taubman, the former chairman of Sotheby’s, to a year and a day in prison for conspiring with his counterpart at Christie’s to fix commissions on items offered for auction.

U.S. District Judge George Daniels also ordered Taubman to pay a $7.5 million fine.

The collusion, which stifled competition between the two largest auction houses, cost customers millions of dollars.

“Price fixing is a crime whether it is committed in a local grocery store or the hall of a great auction house,” Daniels said.

“This was a deceitful, secretive criminal scheme whose whole object and purpose was criminal profit. This was a crime motivated not by desperation and need, but by arrogance and greed.”

Rejecting a probation report that recommended against prison time, Daniels said Taubman had failed to show contrition and had tried to blame others while portraying himself as the victim of a vicious scheme.

The judge said Taubman “clearly performed a supervisory and managerial role” in the conspiracy.

“Regardless of what heights he has obtained in life, no one is above the law,” Daniels said.

Yodeler Drops Lawsuit Against Yahoo


Yodeler Wylie Gustafson, a country-western singer from Dusty, Wash., said Monday that he was dropping a lawsuit accusing Yahoo Inc. of poaching his three-note vocalization following what may have been the fastest settlement in the West.

News of Gustafson’s $5 million lawsuit was carried around the world Friday, prompting Yahoo to put its top lawyer on a plane for a meeting in Los Angeles with the cowboy-poet’s lawyer. His people had a deal with their people by sundown Saturday.

“I am the happy yodeler,” Gustafson said Monday. “I was surprised. I said, ‘Boy, that was fast.’“

Gustafson agreed not to disclose how much Yahoo would pay him. But, he said, it was “enough to feed my (10) hungry horses this winter” -- and then some.

“While both parties had a reasonable basis for their beliefs, as soon as Yahoo learned of the suit, the company responded promptly and fairly,” Yahoo said in a statement. “The Yahoo yodel, performed by Gustafson and known and loved by millions around the world, will continue to be used in Yahoo advertising and marketing.”

Gustafson said he may even make appearances on behalf of the popular Web site.

Lawyers said the suit may have been the first to attempt to enforce a copyright on a yodel.

“Hopefully this will make artists more aware and companies more aware of the value of copyrights and the use of artists’ creations,” Gustafson said. “Anything with a musical melody is copyrightable. It’s not like I’m just yelling or screaming. There is a definite musical structure to that yodel.”