Judge denies Microsoft request to delay antitrust case; trial still on for March

Monday, January 7th 2002, 12:00 am
By: News On 6

WASHINGTON (AP) _ Microsoft lawyers failed Monday to persuade a federal judge to delay the company's antitrust case, clearing the way for a March trial.

``This schedule is well within the range afforded the parties throughout this case,'' U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly said at the hearing's outset. ``Certainly no one can claim that they lack the resources.''

Microsoft did succeed in raising concerns that some competitors called to testify by the nine states suing Microsoft aren't cooperating with the software giant's lawyers. Several firms scheduled to testify _ including Oracle, Sun Microsystems and AOL Time Warner _ have lobbied for the broader penalties the states now seek.

Dan K. Webb, Microsoft's lead attorney, said only six of the 24 companies served with subpoenas have responded at all. Webb said he soon may have to ask the court to compel their cooperation.

``I need a good hunk of these documents before I do depositions,'' Webb said, naming SBC Communications as one offender.

Kollar-Kotelly said if any Microsoft competitor refused to cooperate with Microsoft, she would bar them from testifying for the states.

``You can't be friendly to one group and not to the other,'' she said. ``I want that message to go out loud and clear.''

Kollar-Kotelly continued pushing the two sides toward discussions rather than litigation by forcing them to submit a report on what they agreed were the facts of the case _ as well as their differences. The judge said she would use the report to speed up the process, in which she will have to decide what penalties the company should face for limiting consumer choice and breaking antitrust law.

Both Webb and Brendan Sullivan, the lead attorney for the states, expressed doubts they could come to any agreements, but Kollar-Kotelly did not relent.

``Hope springs eternal from the court's side,'' she said.

University of Baltimore law professor Bob Lande said the judge's denial of Microsoft's request was a major blow to the company. Delay of the remedy hearing could allow more time for the judge to approve a settlement reached by the federal government and nine other states, which would hurt the remaining states' case.

The states that did not sign onto that settlement are Iowa, California, Connecticut, West Virginia, Utah, Minnesota, Kansas, Florida and Massachusetts. Those remaining states, as well as the District of Columbia, decided to hold out for stricter penalties.

``She didn't even throw Microsoft a bone'' by giving the company a few more weeks, Lande said. He said even though it was clear that the judge made her mind up before the hearing, she decided to listen to Microsoft's argument to show she was fair to the firm.

Kollar-Kotelly's predecessor, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, was criticized by Microsoft and an appeals court for not giving Microsoft a fair shake. Jackson's ruling, which called for a breakup of Microsoft, was thrown out by the appeals court and he was removed from the case.