Report: Mediator to Effect Settlement by Deadline?

SAN FRANCISCO (03/29/2000) - The court mediator's hopes of effecting a settlement in the antitrust battle between Microsoft Corp. and the U.S. government was reportedly the reason for the judge in the case delaying his conclusions of law due yesterday. However, the deadline the mediator has set for reaching a settlement is only a week away, according to a report in today's New York Times newspaper.

U.S. District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, the judge in charge of the antitrust case, didn't release his conclusions of law yesterday, contrary to his previously announced schedule. [See "Judge in Microsoft Case Gives More Time," March 28.]The delay gives the parties involved -- the U.S. Department of Justice (DOJ), 19 U.S. states and Microsoft -- a brief breathing space to reach a settlement, with the judge's conclusions of law now expected at the earliest on Friday, April 7. Jackson appointed Richard Posner, chief judge of the 7th Circuit U.S.

Court of Appeals in Chicago, as mediator in the antitrust case in November of last year in an attempt to bring about a settlement. [See "MS/DOJ: Judge Appoints Mediator," Nov. 19, 1999.]If a settlement is reached prior to the judge issuing his conclusions of law, the case is at an end. Microsoft issued a settlement proposal over the weekend, but the offer didn't immediately garner the DOJ's approval, according to media reports. [See "Judge in Microsoft Case Gives More Time," March 28.]Posner's written timetable for resolving the case reportedly states that if Microsoft and the DOJ can't reach a settlement within a week of today, his mediation efforts will stop, the Times article said. Should the two sides reach an agreement on a settlement proposal, the other proponents in the case -- the 19 U.S. state attorneys general -- will have only two days to give the deal their seal of approval, according to the Times report. Settlement talks first got going at the end of November last year.

A spokesman for Posner today refused to comment on the Times report, as did DOJ spokeswoman Gina Talamona.

The U.S. states theoretically could terminate their partnership with the DOJ and go it alone against Microsoft. The two parties merged their separate antitrust suits against Microsoft when the case went to trial.

Judge Jackson's findings of fact in the case released in November of last year went a long way towards supporting the U.S. government's case that Microsoft has abused its monopoly position in the desktop operating systems market.

However, Jackson's findings at that time didn't rule on whether the software vendor had violated antitrust law, another one of the government's contentions.

Once the judge's conclusions of law are issued, the stage will then be set to consider remedies for the case, which could potentially involve a breakup of the software giant -- a move Microsoft vehemently opposes.

Microsoft, in Redmond, Washington, can be reached at +1-425-882-8080 or at http://www.microsoft.com/.

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