Court reverses Microsoft ruling

by Ithan Peltan | 7/3/01 5:00am

In a decision sharply criticizing the federal district court judge -- a Dartmouth graduate -- who presided over the landmark Microsoft Corporation antitrust case, an appeals court on Thursday overturned a decision breaking up the company for anticompetitive business practices.

The appeals court focused on what it said were "deliberate, repeated, egregious and flagrant" violations by Federal District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson '58 of rules prohibiting public comment by judges on pending cases.

Citing interviews Jackson had with numerous media organizations as well as a speech he gave at Dartmouth, the appeals court employed unusually scathing language in finding that Jackson's out-of-court statements criticizing Microsoft's evidence, practices and witnesses "destroyed the appearance of impartiality."

Jackson's failure to hold a hearing to gather evidence regarding several factual disputes between the parties during the remedy phase of the trial was also given as a reason for the remand.

The antitrust case which was brought against Microsoft three years ago by the Department of Justice and a number of states will now be sent back to district court for further action, although the appeals court has mandated that a new judge oversees future hearings.

However, because the appeals court found no evidence for actual bias on Jackson's part, it chose to affirm his decision that Microsoft had exercised monopoly power in the personal computer software market in general, although not specifically in the area of Internet browsers, with its tying of Internet Explorer into the Windows operating system.

Jackson could not be reached for comment by press time.

Both United States Attorney General John Ashcroft and Microsoft Chairman Bill Gates welcomed the decision as a victory during press conferences on Thursday.

Both Ashcroft and Gates also said they would need more time to review the complex decision before determining what the next step would be.

"I am pleased that the court unanimously found that Microsoft engaged in unlawful conduct ... This is a significant victory," Ashcroft said in a statement on Thursday.

"While largely pleased with the dismissal of breakup and narrowing of the case, Microsoft is disappointed with some of the findings in the area of monopoly maintenance. We are reviewing the ruling and preparing to make the necessary adjustments to our business going forward," a Microsoft spokesperson said yesterday.

Although attempts to reach a settlement between the parties failed during the Clinton administration, which adopted a hardline approach to the case, settlement may now be more likely under the Bush administration.

While Microsoft's spokesperson said that the company feels the criticisms of Jackson contained in its appeal of his decision have been "reafirmed," the company spokesperson had no further comment on the issue.

"We feel that the appeals court has spoken on the matter," the spokesperson said.

In various interviews with journalists, Jackson has called Gates "inherently without credibility" and likened him to Napolean Bonaparte. He has also compared the company itself to drug traffickers and gangland killers.