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Judge Won't Delay Microsoft Case

by Eun-Kyung Kim (AP)
May 24, 2000, 3:18 pm GMT

WASHINGTON (AP) - The judge presiding over the government's antitrust suit against Microsoft today rebuffed a request by a company lawyer to delay consideration of the Justice Department request to break up the software giant.

``I intend to proceed to the merits of the remedy'' for violations of antitrust law, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson told Microsoft lawyer John Warden at the start of today's hearing in federal court here.

Warden had told the judge he thought that only two items should be on the agenda - the company's motion to dismiss the government's suit and a discussion of the timetable for the case.

After months of back-and-forth volleying between Microsoft and the Justice Department's antitrust division, the question of sanctions remained before the court.

Jackson, who found last month that Microsoft engaged in anticompetitive behavior in violation of federal antitrust laws, is trying to craft a remedy that will curb its future conduct and restore competition in the software industry.

His attention, and that of everyone else involved in the case, centers on a government proposal that would split Microsoft into two companies. Just how seriously Jackson is considering the plan could be indicated during a hearing scheduled for today.

``If he has decided to take a structural remedy proposal seriously, then he's going to want to listen to Microsoft's argument that it will take some extra time,'' said Herb Hovenkamp, an antitrust expert from the University of Iowa.

It was Jackson who oversaw the 78-day antitrust trial in a case brought by the Justice Department and 19 state attorneys general. Last month, he ruled that Microsoft violated federal antitrust law by using illegal methods to protect its monopoly in the computer operating systems. The company also tried to expand its dominance into the market for Internet browsers, the judge found. Microsoft plans to appeal the ruling.

Today's hearing is intended to help Jackson determine the best remedy to impose against Microsoft to restore competition in the software industry.

Both Microsoft and the government were to get about two hours before the judge to argue their case.

The Justice Department, along with 17 of the 19 states, has urged Jackson in legal documents to split Microsoft into two companies. One would develop the Windows operating system, which dominates the personal computer market worldwide and was found by Jackson to be the source of Microsoft's monopoly. The other company would run everything else Microsoft operates, including its Office software and Internet services.

Microsoft believes the government lacks a basis for its proposed breakup. The Redmond, Wash.-based company has asked Jackson to summarily dismiss the government proposal, or at least give its attorneys up to six months to prepare a legal defense against such a ``severe'' punishment. Microsoft also has offered numerous milder penalties in its place.

Legal antitrust experts expect Jackson to grant Microsoft some, but not all, of the additional time it wants.

``What the government is requesting is the restructuring of what may be the world's most important company,'' said Bill Kovacic, an antitrust expert at George Washington University. ``Is it worth taking a few additional weeks, maybe a couple of months, to get that right? I think he (Jackson) will conclude that it is.''

Hovenkamp agreed, saying the judge has several reasons for wanting to grant the delay.

Among them: ``There are a million ways to slice and dice Microsoft and there's been a lot of proposals for differing ways to do it,'' Hovenkamp said, referring to legal documents submitted to Jackson by outside groups.

Also, many people believe that structural remedies fail to resolve anything, he said.

``There are some things that need some serious consideration,'' Hovenkamp said. ``But I don't think they need six months of consideration and I don't think Jackson's going to think that either.''

 

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