Microsoft asks delay in antitrust remedy hearing

By : |December 21, 2001 0



Peter Kaplan

WASHINGTON: Microsoft Corp. on Friday asked a federal judge for a four-month
delay of hearings on what antitrust remedy should be imposed on the company.

The software giant told US District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly in a
filing that it needed the delay because the states rejecting a proposed
settlement of the case are seeking a "dramatic expansion" of possible
sanctions.

Under the current timetable, laid out by the judge three months ago, the
remedy hearings are set to begin March 11. Microsoft said that leaves it too
little time to prepare. The schedule "should be amended in view of the
non-settling states’ dramatic expansion of the scope of the litigation beyond
what the court reasonably could have anticipated three months ago,"
Microsoft said in its brief.

The US Justice Department and nine of the 18 states in the landmark case have
agreed to a settlement that would require Microsoft to take steps to give
computer makers more freedom to feature rival software on their machines.

But nine dissenting state attorneys general say the settlement is inadequate,
and have asked Kollar-Kotelly for tougher sanctions against the company for
illegally maintaining its monopoly in personal computer operating systems.

Among other things, these states want Kollar-Kotelly to order Microsoft to
sell a cheaper, stripped-down version of its Windows operating system. Iowa
Attorney General Tom Miller, from one of the hold-out states, argued against a
delay.

"If there is one thing that characterizes Microsoft’s conduct in this
case even more than denial, it is delay, delay, delay," he said in a
statement.



"The States are ready to move ahead. We have proposed reasonable and
fair remedies consistent with the Court of Appeals’ decision, and Judge
Kollar-Kotelly has established a reasonable and expeditious schedule to
determine the remedies. Let’s get on to the conclusion of this case," he
said.

One legal observer said a delay in the remedy hearing would be a big
strategic victory for Microsoft if the judge granted its request. Such a
timetable would distance the remedy hearing from a separate Tunney Act public
interest hearing on the proposed settlement, said University of Baltimore law
professor Robert Lande.

"If she does say that this settlement is in the public interest, then
the states face an uphill fight in their remedy proceeding," Lande said.
"It’s enormously important from a strategic perspective."
Kollar-Kotelly asked the states to respond formally to Microsoft’s delay request
by Dec. 31.

In a separate filing, Microsoft said it would call Chief Executive Steve
Ballmer as a witness at the remedy hearings. Microsoft chairman and cofounder,
Bill Gates, did not appear in person during the trial. Microsoft spokesman Jim
Desler would not elaborate on why Ballmer was going to appear or the subject of
his testimony.

"We chose the company representatives most appropriate to attest to our
commitment to comply with the consent decree, as well as to counter the
far-reaching proposals put forth by the non-settling states," Desler said.
Some legal analysts have said company chairman Bill Gates damaged Microsoft’s
defense at trial by not appearing in person.

An appeals court in June upheld the original trial court’s ruling that the
company violated antitrust law by illegally maintaining its monopoly in personal
computer operating systems.

The proposed settlement would require Microsoft to share parts of the inner
workings of Windows with other software makers. But the dissenting states want
Microsoft to also give competitors access to the inner workings of Internet
Explorer and allow competitors to sell their own customized version of the Web
browser.

In addition, the hold-out states want the judge to ensure Microsoft Office,
the popular business software, will be compatible with other software platforms.

(C) Reuters Limited.

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