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Microsoft Judge: Complete Case in 60 Days
Reuters
Photo
Reuters Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The judge in the Microsoft (NasdaqNM:MSFT - news) antitrust case has told both sides he wants to complete the penalties phase of the case in 60 days, and has set up a meeting for 11 a.m. EDT on Wednesday to work out details, according to a court transcript.

``That's the desideratum, to get it resolved in 60 days,'' U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson said in an official court transcript from a closed meeting with all sides in the dispute.

The judge ruled on Monday that Microsoft broke the nation's antitrust laws by abusing monopoly power and harming competitors and competition itself.

Jackson said he wanted to complete quickly the phase of the trial in which penalties are imposed so that the case could move to appellate court and be resolved as soon as possible.

``My transcendent objective is to get this thing before an appellate tribunal -- one or another -- as quickly as possible because I don't want to disrupt the economy or waste any more of yours or my time,'' he said.

The judge told lawyers for the government and Microsoft that such an expedited appeal could not occur until the judge ruled on what sanctions to impose on Microsoft for its anti-competitive practices.

Jackson, speaking during a scheduling conference on Tuesday afternoon in his chambers, said he hoped to receive the detailed motions on penalties within two months. Attorneys for both sides agreed to try to meet the deadline.

If the appeal were expedited, it could go to the Supreme Court as early as this summer, setting the stage for a resolution as early as the end of this year -- a much shorter time period than many have anticipated.

Jackson ruled on Monday that Microsoft had broken the law when it moved to crush rivals that threatened its Windows monopoly and when it tried to control the market for Internet browsers.

Debate Over Penalties
Reuters
Photo
Reuters Photo

The debate over penalties, which will be settled in the courts, also will play out in the public arena and in Congress, during hearings planned by both the Senate Judiciary and Commerce committees. The extent of Jackson's sweeping verdict that Microsoft engaged in activities to protect its monopoly suggests that a breakup of the company will be on the table, along with a lesser sanction of imposed limits on the company's business practices.

Should Jackson decide to send the case to the Supreme Court, it could be viewed as a boon to the Justice Department and the 19 states that have sued Microsoft, because it would bypass the U.S. Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia. The appeals court in 1998 dealt the Justice Department a major defeat in an earlier, related Microsoft case.

Such an end-run appeal to the Supreme Court is permitted by the Sherman Antitrust Act in cases that are ``of general public importance in the administration of justice,'' though in the past 25 years it has been used only once -- for a review of the case to break up AT&T.

To implement the judge's plan, some hurdles have to be overcome. One of the parties in the case has to request the speedy appeal to the Supreme Court; at the Justice Department, such a decision must be considered by the solicitor general, and in major cases also by the attorney general and sometimes even the president, said Drew Days, former solicitor general and now a Yale University law professor.

Next, the Supreme Court must agree to hear the case. Even if petitioned, the high court could remand the case to the U.S. Court of Appeals.

The law providing for speedy appeals to the Supreme Court was first created in 1903, calling for all government antitrust cases to go directly from the district court to the high court. In 1975, the law was changed to allow a district court judge hearing a government antitrust case to send any request for an appeal to the Supreme Court.

 

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