April 20, 2024

Wal-Mart Security Suit Seeks Oklahoma’s Help

Mr. Gabbard has been on the run ever since, pursued by Wal-Mart’s lawyers, who claim he took a trove of company documents with him when he left. A corporate fugitive, he fled Wal-Mart’s home state of Arkansas and has not returned because a state judge has ordered he be arrested on sight and questioned under oath about whether he pilfered documents.

Now Wal-Mart has filed suit in Oklahoma — where Mr. Gabbard has moved — seeking to enforce the Arkansas judge’s order. Mr. Gabbard’s lawyers say the motion amounts to an attempt to have their client arrested and brought back to Arkansas, which would be highly unusual in a civil dispute.

Wal-Mart officials deny they want Mr. Gabbard physically detained — the order to arrest him has no legal weight outside Arkansas, they admit — but they are asking the Oklahoma court to require him to return internal corporate documents they say he has. They also say Mr. Gabbard posted Wal-Mart documents on a Web site he controls as recently as last week.

“We have credible evidence that Mr. Gabbard copied Wal-Mart files before returning them to the company, and he revealed this month that he still retains Wal-Mart’s confidential information,” said Greg Rossiter, a Wal-Mart spokesman. “All we are asking is that Mr. Gabbard comply with the court’s order requiring that he turn over confidential files.”

Mr. Gabbard maintains he did comply with the court order in April 2007, handing over all the documents he had at the time, including those on his desktop computer, several hard drives and a raft of other digital storage devices.

“I brought everything and surrendered it to Wal-Mart,” he said in an interview this week.

But Mr. Gabbard’s lawyers say he later came into possession of another batch of internal Wal-Mart documents, after he had been fired and after a court order in 2008 prohibiting him from revealing trade secrets. They argue those documents, which support his claim that he was wrongly terminated, are not covered by the court’s order.

Wal-Mart officials say those are questions for Judge John R. Scott in Bentonville, Ark., to decide. For two years, they complain, Mr. Gabbard has flouted the judge’s order to appear in court and to hand over company documents in his possession.

David Massey, a lawyer representing Mr. Gabbard pro bono, says his client believes he cannot get a fair hearing in Bentonville, home to Wal-Mart’s corporate headquarters. Mr. Massey says the Arkansas court denied his client due process when it held Mr. Gabbard in contempt two years ago.

Mr. Gabbard was unemployed and living in South Carolina when he received notice of the hearing, just three days before it was to take place, Mr. Massey said. The judge held the hearing without him, decided in Wal-Mart’s favor, then ordered the local sheriff to arrest Mr. Gabbard on sight for contempt of court. The ruling also ordered Mr. Gabbard to disclose all the documents he had, along with the names of everyone he had communicated with since January 2007.

“He’s scared to death to go back to Wal-Mart’s home court,” Mr. Massey said.

Mr. Gabbard, a 48-year-old former Marine, was fired after Wal-Mart discovered he had taped telephone conversations between a New York Times reporter and members of the company’s public relations staff. Mr. Gabbard, a computer security expert, has maintained he was a fall guy. His superiors knew he was monitoring phone calls, he says, and had encouraged him to find the leak to the newspaper. Wal-Mart says he acted alone.

After his dismissal, Mr. Gabbard embarrassed the retailer, telling The Wall Street Journal he was part of an elaborate operation that snooped on employees, stockholders and company critics. Wal-Mart also accused him of leaking trade secrets to the news media, including a plan to increase the retailer’s stock price called “Project Red.”

Article source: http://feeds.nytimes.com/click.phdo?i=9aaee77d238f0aa9e3a765a3582d8711

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