Mesa blames exec’s porn purge for deletion of data sought in suit
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Mesa Air Group said yesterday its chief financial officer went to great lengths to permanently delete computer data sought by Hawaiian Airlines to cover up his interest in pornography.
In an evidentiary hearing held yesterday before Hawaiian's lawsuit against Mesa goes to trial, the operator of the interisland airline go! said it discovered that CFO Peter Murnane had been browsing adult Web sites.
It also said Murnane was solely responsible for deleting data from his three computers and that the company had given to Hawaiian all the deleted data.
Hawaiian attorney Sidney Levinson called Mesa's reference to pornography "a transparent effort to distract the court's attention and undermine the credibility of one of Mesa's most senior officers."
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Mesa Air Group, distancing itself from one of its top executives, said its chief financial officer was single-handedly responsible for the decision to delete computer data sought by Hawaiian Airlines and that he may have done so to cover up his interest in pornography.
In a hearing in U.S. Bankruptcy Court yesterday ahead of a scheduled two-week trial, Mesa attorney Maxwell Blecher said CFO Peter Murnane had browsed adult Web sites, which might have been his incentive to use a special software program to permanently erase data from hard drives on three computers.
But Hawaiian attorney Sidney Levinson called Mesa's reference to pornography "a transparent effort to distract the court's attention and undermine the credibility of one of Mesa's most senior officers."
"You have to wonder why Mesa thinks that smearing their own star witness with allegations of pornography benefits them," he said.
Hawaiian, which is asking the court to grant a default judgment because of Mesa's alleged destruction of evidence, is suing Mesa for entering the interisland market armed with confidential information allegedly obtained while acting as a potential investor during Hawaiian's bankruptcy. Mesa, which operates interisland carrier go!, has claimed that it relied only on public information.
The trial, initially scheduled to start yesterday, won't begin until the evidentiary hearing begun yesterday concludes. Mesa has three more witnesses to put on the stand today, including Jonathan Ornstein, its chairman and chief executive.
Hawaiian is seeking monetary damages and an injunction barring Mesa from selling tickets for one year.
Jefford Englander, a computer forensics expert from Phoenix-based Lightstone Solutions, spent about 90 minutes on the stand yesterday detailing how he uncovered multiple instances of deleted files that he could not identify. He also uncovered signs the computer clock had been manipulated -- including files that appeared to have been modified before they were created.
"(Murnane) was successful in his attempt to eradicate data from the hard drive and less successful in concealing his activities with the clock operations," Englander said.
Under questioning from Blecher, Englander said he didn't notice, nor did he look for, adult-content Web sites that had been deleted.
However, Chris Pappiaoanou, Mesa's vice president of legal affairs, under questioning recalled an incident in late 2003 or early 2004 in which he came in to work on a Saturday morning and observed Murnane looking at adult content on Murnane's computer screen.
"It's a substantial embarrassment to have porn on the computer because of his position in the community and the company," Blecher said following yesterday's hearing. "It's highly embarrassing."
Still, Blecher was upbeat about Mesa's chances of prevailing when the trial phase begins.
"Mesa didn't use confidential information and we're very optimistic at the end of the day that the jury will find in our favor," he said. "They can't point to anything he deleted that doesn't exist. In our view, they're chasing a ghost. They have the burden of showing something of real significance was deleted. Everything they say has been destroyed, in our view, has been produced to them."
Levinson several times accused Mesa of being less than truthful and said that every time he and his fellow counsel dig into an issue involving Mesa that "something has always turned up."
"We're never going to be in a position to get assurance that we've gotten everything we would need," he said.
Hawaiian Chief Executive Mark Dunkerley, who sat in court all day on the opposite side of the room from Ornstein, called it "a day of revealing testimony."
"We look forward to tomorrow," he added.
Ornstein, because of his scheduled testimony today, declined to comment.
Murnane, who has independently hired Honolulu criminal defense attorney Brook Hart, wasn't in the courtroom.