MS-DOJ case emboldens litigators

MS-DOJ case emboldens litigators

Microsoft could settle its antitrust case with the US Department of Justice soon, but its legal battles will be far from over.

Microsoft, which has been assigned an antitrust case mediator by US District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who is pushing Microsoft and the Government to settle, has been hit by a wave of class-action suits in the wake of Jackson's declaring it a monopoly. Jackson appointed Richard Posner, the chief judge of the 7th Circuit US Court of Appeals in Chicago, to oversee negotiations.

"We think the naming of a mediator is potentially a positive step in resolving this case," said a representative for the software titan.

Consumer advocate Ralph Nader said the company could have good reason to be pleased with the choice of Posner. According to Nader, Lexecon, a consulting firm founded by the conservative judge, "advised corporations how to defeat antitrust law enforcement and undermine regulatory actions.

"Given his voluminous antagonism to government regulation, it is not likely that Judge Posner will nudge his sparring parties toward conduct changes by Microsoft that need regulatory oversight," Nader said. "But then, would he encourage structural changes such as Microsoft's breakup into two or more companies that separate its operating systems business from its applications business? Certainly Judge Jackson's findings of fact would support a breakup remedy. But it is difficult to envision Judge Posner recommending such a move."

Meanwhile, three lawyers filed a class-action lawsuit against Microsoft last week on behalf of millions of California Windows 95 and Windows 98 customers. The lawsuit, filed in California Superior Court in San Francisco, accuses Microsoft of using its monopoly in the desktop PC software market to charge users an unfairly high price for Windows. The lawsuit seeks treble financial damages for the plaintiffs, but does not put a dollar figure on those damages.

The three lawyers - Terry Gross and Francis Acarpulla of San Francisco and Daniel Mogin of San Diego - helped force a settlement in a case against Intel that accused the chip maker of spreading misleading data about the performance of its microprocessors in 1997.

Until a verdict is reached in the antitrust case, Jackson's findings cannot be used in private antitrust actions, another Microsoft spokesman said. Microsoft has indicated that it will appeal any unfavourable ruling in that case, a process that could take years, he added.

The California suit attaches Jackson's findings of fact as "Exhibit A" and refers to the judge's determination that Microsoft abused its monopoly power to the detriment of consumers.

Blood in the water

Microsoft is facing several class-action suits after being declared a monopoly by a federal judgeCalifornia: Class-action suit, private suit seeking class-action statusOhio: $10 billion class-action suitLouisiana: Class-action suitNew York: Private suit seeking class-action statusAlabama: Private suit seeking class-action status

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