States seek earlier Microsoft hearings

Judge asked to reject software maker's bid for delay till summer

January 01, 2002|By BLOOMBERG NEWS

WASHINGTON - Nine states seeking stricter antitrust penalties against Microsoft Corp. asked a federal judge yesterday to reject the No. 1 software maker's proposal to delay hearings in the case until the summer.

The states said in court papers that a new remedies phase of the 3 1/2 -year-old case should be held in March as U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly has ordered. The company proposed delaying it until July or August.

"That Microsoft stands to benefit from delay is obvious," the state attorneys general said in the court papers. "It is equally obvious that the consumers and competitors who have been and are being harmed by Microsoft's monopolistic conduct stand to suffer further from the passage of additional time."

The states are seeking restrictions on Microsoft's business practices that go beyond a proposed settlement signed by the Bush administration and nine other states. Among other changes, the states want the Redmond, Wash.-based company to forfeit control of its Internet Explorer browser.

Microsoft has made requests for additional time in the case at various points during the progression of the legal dispute that began in 1998. Its latest bid to push back the timetable was made on Dec. 21, and yesterday the company defended its proposal.

"Microsoft can hardly be accused of delay," said company spokesman Jim Desler. "Any delay is really the fault of these non-settling states" that have "launched an entirely new case against the company."

The states said Microsoft is dragging its feet in ending anti-competitive behavior.

"As the court of appeals noted, it has been over six years since Microsoft first began its extensive illegal campaign," the states said. "It is no surprise Microsoft would like to continue to delay the proceeding that most threatens to deprive it of the ability to engage in the practices condemned as unlawful by the court of appeals."

Microsoft shares fell $1.60, or 2.4 percent, to $66.27 in trading yesterday.

The states said Microsoft wants to rehash arguments for delay that Kollar-Kotelly has rejected. That includes Microsoft's claim that it will be unprepared for the hearing on remedies, the states said.

"The states will be ready to proceed, and Microsoft can be ready, too," Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller said in a statement. "We have proposed reasonable remedies and the judge has set a reasonable schedule. Let's get on to the conclusion of this case so we can prevent further harm to competition and consumers."

Microsoft's Windows operating system runs 95 percent of the world's personal computers. A federal appeals court in Washington ruled this year that the company abused its monopoly power but overturned a judge's decision to split the software giant in two.

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