U staff member retains hard drive in investigation

by Nicole Vulcan

University staff member Ashley Wilkes will not have to turn his hard drive over to investigators in a case pitting Amway against Procter & Gamble, U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Boylan announced Monday.
Boylan found Wilkes’ involvement in the case — in which Amway is suing Procter & Gamble for damages to its reputation — to be too far removed from the crux of the case.
The case stems from an original suit in which Procter & Gamble sued Amway. The complaint alleged that an Amway employee spread rumors that Procter & Gamble supported Satanism.
Wilkes, a University lab technician who maintains an anti-Amway Motivational Organization Web site through the University’s server, was involved in the case because he had contact with Sidney Schwartz, the author of another anti-Amway Motivational Organization Web site.
Amway sought to view Wilkes’ Web site for words like “Amway” and “Procter & Gamble,” information that Boylan decided can be accessed through Procter & Gamble’s computers. Amway contended that Wilkes was in cohorts with Procter & Gamble.
“Amway’s attempt to wear me down financially and emotionally is one more maneuver in a string of maneuvers,” Wilkes said. He said he believes Amway only wanted to see his hard drive to intimidate him into closing down his Web site.
Wilkes, as well as the University, submitted letters of objection in response to subpoenas served in February.
“We are pleased that Mr. Wilkes’ privacy rights are protected here,” said Mark Rotenberg, the University’s general counsel. “It shows that this office will vigilantly guard the rights of faculty, staff and students when their databases are demanded by outside parties for no compelling reason.”
When the rumors about Procter & Gamble began to spread in 1995, the two companies — who, although not affiliated, maintained a friendly business relationship — worked closely to dispel them. They went as far as producing a kit that discredited the rumor, said Robin Luymes, an Amway public relations official.
But an Amway distributor forwarded the rumor to several people through a voice mail system by mistake, Luymes said, causing what Procter & Gamble views as further harm to their reputation.
The suit was dismissed by a Utah judge in Sept. 1998. Procter & Gamble filed the same suit, which is still in litigation, in Texas in 1997.
Amway filed one of its own, involving Wilkes, against Procter & Gamble in Oct. 1998, accusing the company of “deliberately funneling misleading documents about Amway to the author of an Internet Web site,” according to a statement released by Amway.
Schwartz is the author of the site named in the Oct. 1998 suit. Much like Wilkes’, its main objective is the defamation of what both have dubbed a “cultist” organization.
Schwartz shut down his site indefinitely Tuesday after enduring financial and emotional stresses related to the suit, Wilkes said.
Wilkes said he won’t think of shutting down his site; in fact, he’s working on it “even more so now.”
Wilkes is a former Amway Motivational Organization representative who lost more than $15,000 in expenses when he became involved with the organization. Troubles related to Wilkes’ involvement with the motivational organization were a main factor in his subsequent divorce from his wife and the reason he maintains the Web site, he said.
Amway still has the option to appeal Boylan’s decision.