The judge in the Microsoft antitrust trial has set a date of 24 May for an expedited hearing to decide the software giant's fate.
The announcement followed a 10-minute meeting yesterday between US District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson and the lawyers involved in the case. Judge Jackson said the US Department of Justice (DoJ) and the 19 US states that brought the case against Microsoft could file separate briefs if they cannot agree on an approach.
Judge Jackson will decide by 28 April at the latest for a filing of proposed remedies by the DoJ and the states. Microsoft has to reply to the proposals by 10 May, and the DoJ and the states will have their final say by 17 May. Attorneys for both sides agreed to try to meet the deadline. US Assistant Attorney General Joel Klein said Judge Jackson would issue a ruling on remedies within 60 days.
In the official court transcript Judge Jackson said: "My transcendent objective is to get this thing before an appellate tribunal, one way or another, as quickly as possible because I don't want to disrupt the economy or waste any more of your or my time."
The judge is also considering bypassing the US Court of Appeals, which sided with Microsoft in an earlier antitrust dispute, and asking the US Supreme Court to review the case directly. If the appeal is expedited, it could go to the Supreme Court as early as this summer. But the Supreme Court must agree to hear it, and even if petitioned, it could remand it to the US Court of Appeals.
Washington State Senator Slade Gorton, one of Microsoft's staunchest supporters in the US Congress, said the software giant would prefer to see any appeal of the verdict go to the circuit court of appeals rather than directly to the Supreme Court.
"I think that it is safe to say that Microsoft would prefer that it go through the regular process," he said.
But Rob Enderle, an analyst at researcher Giga Information Group, said Microsoft chairman Bill Gates found it hard to recognise expertise in others and had surrounded himself with people that did not want to upset him. "Gates never really saw the emerging threat of litigation, particularly of government litigation, as something Microsoft needed to prepare for," he said.
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