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HP trial starts with a waiting game

At the courthouse, where Hewlett-Packard is pitted against a dissident shareholder, placeholders stand in line for lawyers and others. Says one: "It's good money."

WILMINGTON, Del.--Hours before the trial pitting Hewlett-Packard against dissident shareholder Walter Hewlett was scheduled to begin, there was plenty of action--waiting in line.

See special coverage: A Fight to the Finish Lines to get in to the trial snaked around the courthouse here Tuesday morning, with passers-by wondering what all the hubbub was about. In fact, it was about getting paid $20 to $45 an hour to hold a spot in line for corporate lawyers, Wall Street traders and other "interested parties."

Tuesday's testimony will kick off a three-day trial that could help decide the fate of the merger between HP and Compaq Computer. Hewlett filed a lawsuit March 28 asking the Delaware Chancery Court to overturn the vote by HP shareholders to approve the deal.

The trial is the latest effort by Hewlett to derail the HP-Compaq merger. Hewlett is arguing that HP improperly influenced Deutsche Bank to vote its shares for the deal. He is asking the court to throw out Deutsche Bank's votes or seek a new vote as an alternative.

One document-retrieval company is paying people $20 an hour and charging companies $100 an hour to stand in line. The earliest placeholder arrived around midnight, and a pack of 20 showed up around 2 a.m.

There were plenty of lawn chairs and sleeping bags--even a Scooby-Doo blanket.

Justin Pansky, 19, drove down from Union County, N.J., to wait in line around midnight: He was there for an "interested party," but wouldn't reveal how much he is getting paid.

"It's good money, so I started a mini-business," Pansky said. "I'll definitely be sitting here all three days."

Lakisha Hudson Wilson, 28, of Wilmington, arrived at 2:30 a.m., in the service of Parcels, a document-retrieval company that has arranged to hold places in line.

"This is the first time I came down for anything," said Wilson, wearing a tan hat with the name of the person she's holding a spot for. "And I may be here for three days."