SAN JOSE, Calif. – A judge dropped the charges Wednesday against former Hewlett-Packard Co. (HPQ) board Chairwoman Patricia Dunn, who was accused of fraud in the company's boardroom spying scandal.
Three other defendants in the case will also avoid jail time after their lawyers entered no contest pleas to misdemeanor charges of fraudulent wire communications in Santa Clara Superior Court.
The charges against former HP ethics chief Kevin Hunsaker, and private investigators Ronald DeLia and Matthew DePante will also be dropped in September after they complete 96 hours of community service and make restitution, the judge said.
State prosecutors announced earlier Wednesday that Dunn and the three other defendants had agreed to plead guilty to reduced charges. According to a release from the attorney general's office, the community service requirement for Dunn would be waived because of her health; Dunn revealed last year that she was being treated for advanced ovarian cancer.
The California Attorney General's office issued a statement saying that its news release "mistakenly predicted that the HP defendants would enter 'guilty' pleas to a misdemeanor count of fraudulent wire communications."
"This is a vindication of Patty Dunn in every sense of the word," said her lawyer, James Brosnahan. "It shows what she's maintained throughout: that she's innocent of these charges."
The four were initially charged in October with four felony counts: use of false or fraudulent pretenses to obtain confidential information from a public utility; unauthorized access to computer data; identity theft; and conspiracy to commit each of those crimes.
Each of those charges carried a fine of up to $10,000 and three years in prison.
While the deal with state prosecutors allows all four defendants to escape jail time, federal prosecutors have said their investigation of the HP leaks probe is ongoing.
Dunn, Hunsaker, DeLia and Depante did not attend the hearing.
A fifth defendant, private investigator Bryan Wagner, was also charged in October. But the state's case against him was dropped after Wagner pleaded guilty to the same charges in federal court and agreed to testify for the prosecution.
No other federal charges have been filed in connection with HP's effort to spy on its own board members.
The boardroom scandal shook Silicon Valley's oldest and biggest technology company, with Dunn stepping down as chairwoman and several other top executives resigning over their roles in the subterfuge.
HP's investigation, which took place in 2005 and 2006, erupted into a national scandal after HP disclosed that the detectives it hired had obtained the private phone records of directors, employees and journalists in an effort to ferret out the source of media leaks.
Using a shady tactic known as "pretexting," the detectives obtained the Social Security numbers of their targets and fooled telephone companies into divulging their detailed call logs.
The California attorney general's office says it issued an inaccurate press release earlier on Wednesday that said Patricia Dunn and three co-defendants would plead guilty to misdemeanor charges. An earlier AP story reflected that. The charges against Dunn were dropped, and her three co-defendants entered no contest pleas in state court.