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Kleiner Perkins Can't Talk About Ellen Pao's Husband and His Finances, Judge Rules

The judge would like to avoid "an unseemly sideshow."

Courtroom sketch by Vicki Behringer.

Can the venture capital firm Kleiner Perkins Caufield & Byers argue that Ellen Pao’s gender discrimination and retaliation lawsuit was financially motivated? Can it bring up the topic of Pao’s husband, a hedge fund chief with a litigious history?

No, said judge Harold Kahn, who had previously made a pretrial ruling that discussion of the financial situation of Pao and her husband Alphonse “Buddy” Fletcher Jr. was off limits.

Yesterday, Kleiner Perkins’ lead lawyer Lynne Hermle asked Kahn to reconsider his decision, given that Pao’s testimony had included her description of her motivations for bringing the case in court, effectively describing herself as an advocate for better treatment of women in venture capital firms. Kleiner Perkins wanted to say that the case was motivated by financial distress, but Kahn ruled against the firm.

Kahn says that the relevance of bringing Pao’s husband and his financial troubles into the case “is substantially outweighed by the substantial danger of undue prejudice to Ms. Pao and confusion of issues as well as undue consumption of time.”

Prior to the trial, Kleiner Perkins had laid out a line of argument that centered on Fletcher, who’d filed for bankruptcy on behalf of his hedge fund and been found to have used firm assets improperly. Kleiner wants to talk about the hedge fund being a “Ponzi scheme” that’s under investigation by the SEC.

How does this relate to how Pao was treated Kleiner Perkins? It’s not entirely connected — as Pao is not responsible for her husband’s firm or his behavior — but Kleiner Perkins was served with a tax lien based on Fletcher’s financing, and Pao fought the liens. Kleiner might also want to squeeze in details like the fact that Fletcher had previously been in a long-term gay relationship before marrying Pao.

In his ruling, Kahn said bringing up Fletcher in court “would likely create an unseemly sideshow, and would greatly intrude on the privacy of both Ms. Pao and Mr. Fletcher.”

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