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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Microsoft Case Put on Fast Track




WASHINGTON -- The U.S. federal judge who found Microsoft Corp. in violation of antitrust law put an appeal of his verdict on "a fast track" Wednesday to the U.S. Supreme Court, bypassing an appellate court to speed the resolution of the case.


Justice Department antitrust chief Joel Klein told reporters after a meeting in Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's chambers that there was now "an expedited schedule that everybody agreed on."


Details were expected to be announced later Wednesday.


Meeting Tuesday behind closed doors with lawyers for the government and Microsoft, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson said: "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."


The expedited appeal could now 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.


On Wednesday, Microsoft chairman Bill Gates was to come to Washington to participate in a panel at the White House and to meet with members of Congress.


Microsoft and Clinton administration officials, who are locked in a bitter battle in court, agreed on one thing Tuesday: They said there was nothing unusual about Gates joining the panel, which will focus on the "digital divide" b etween technology haves and have-nots.


"On a panel on closing the global divide, on health education technology, Bill Gates is an excellent person to have, regardless of what is going on in an enforcement or regulatory proceeding somewhere else within the government," White House economic adviser Gene Sperling said.


On Capitol Hill, Gates has meetings planned with both Democratic and Republican leaders as well as sessions with the party caucuses, including lunch with Senate Republicans.


While the trial is not on the official schedule, a Microsoft spokeswoman said, "to the extent that the trial does come up, he'll certainly answer any questions."


A 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.


Jackson's decision to send the case to the Supreme Court could be viewed as a boon to the Justice Department and the 19 states that have sued Microsoft, because it bypasses 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.


William Kovacic, a George Washington University law professor, said before the fast-track decision was announced that the Justice Deparment and the states might welcome the speedy appeal, "figuring that nothing particularly good for the government would come out of the Court of Appeals, given the previous experience. Why not go right to the top?"


A swift ending to the case could dramatically change the calculus that many say the company has been employing - to draw out the appeal long enough so that changes in the marketplace make sanctions unnecessary.


"I think the judge understands that expediting this litigation furthers the cause of justice," New York Attorney General Eliot Spitzer said. "The status quo benefits Microsoft. The status quo reflects a marketplace infected by their monopolistic behavior."