Microsoft has demanded the disqualification of a court-appointed official involved in its antitrust case, for alleged bias.
The software giant claims the official has displayed bias in a series of emails to arch-rival Netscape.
Lawrence Lessig, a Harvard University law professor and technology expert, was appointed by US District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson last month as a special master, to examine the complex technology issues involved in the US Department of Justice?s lawsuit. He was asked to present his findings by 31 May.
But, on 23 December, Microsoft argued that the court had exceeded its authority in delegating so much of the case to a special master, complaining that it had not been given the chance to suggest or vet candidates for the job.
Yesterday, the DoJ filed its response, saying that Microsoft provided ?no legitimate basis? for challenging Lessig?s appointment and its arguments were ?disingenuous?.
But, on the same day, Richard Urowsky, Microsoft?s lawyer, faxed a letter to Lessig and Jackson referring to three email messages sent between Lessig and Netscape staff, the last of which was dated 29 July 1997.
A Microsoft spokesman said DoJ officials had faxed the messages to it on 31 December after a meeting the day before between Microsoft staff, DoJ lawyers and Lessig.
?At that meeting, Lessig had hinted that there were some conflict issues that he wanted to discuss with Microsoft,? he added.
The first message was from Lessig to Peter Harter, Netscape?s global public policy counsel, in which Lessig complains that, when he had installed Microsoft?s Internet Explorer (IE) browser on his Macintosh, it had messed up the URL bookmarks on his existing copy of Netscape Navigator.
?OK, now this is making me really angry, and Charlie Nesson thinks we should file a lawsuit,? Lessig said. Nesson, another Harvard law professor, had acted as a co-ordinator of the February 1997 forum at the University, entitled ?Should Microsoft be allowed to swallow the Net??.
When referring to his decision to install IE in the first place, Lessig says: ?Sold my soul. And nothing happened?, a phrase Microsoft took exception to, claiming it implied the software giant was the devil.
In the second email, Harter said he had passed Lessig?s complaint to Roberta Katz, Netscape?s general counsel, and to Eric Bradley, Netscape?s senior network systems administrator.
In the third message, Bradley wrote to Lessig and Katz that although he had never installed IE on his Macintosh, but had heard ?horror stories from people who did?.
Microsoft?s Urowsky, in its letter to Lessig, said the software giant regarded ?the sentiments expressed by you and your acquaintances at Netscape as exhibiting clear bias against Microsoft, disqualifying you from any further participation in this case".
But, the DoJ replied that none of Microsoft?s complaints about Lessig, including the company?s ?selective and misleading references to his writings, reasonably suggest any personal bias. These assertions are unfounded and overblown and depend largely on assumptions and conjecture.?
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