Antitrust Procedures Dog Microsoft

 
 
By Caron Carlson  |  Posted 2001-12-03
 
 
 

Despite Microsoft Corp.s apparent victory in federal court last month, the company faces a barrage of renewed pressures in the antitrust case that has dogged it for years.

U.S. senators charged with overseeing the Department of Justice are preparing to question the agencys settlement terms next week, and nine states and the District of Columbia plan to submit tougher remedy proposals with the court later this week.

The nine states that refused to join the settlement last month rejected an offer from Microsoft to join in exchange for reimbursement of legal fees. The 10-day offer expired last week without any states accepting, said Jim Dessler, a Microsoft spokesman, in Redmond, Wash.

"I would say that there are no plans on any additional offers at this time," Dessler said, adding that Microsoft is preparing to submit counterproposals in the ongoing litigation Dec. 12.

At least some of the nonsettling state attorneys general are discussing the possibility of participating in a hearing tentatively planned by Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., according to a state attorney general official who requested anonymity.

But as the states delve into the next phase of litigation—this time on their own—its widely expected that most will opt to avoid the limelight at the hearing tentatively scheduled for Dec. 12.

However, senators from five of the nine states serve on the committee, including Sens. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass.; Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif.; Sam Brownback, R-Kan.; and ranking minority member Orrin Hatch, R-Utah.

There are limited direct measures the Senate could take even if hearings convince members that the settlement terms are insufficient. Legislation is seen as highly unlikely in that the Democrat-controlled Senate retains a very small majority, and Republican leadership in the House has not expressed an interest in reviewing the case.

However, Senate hearings could have an indirect effect by explaining the specifics of the settlement to a wider audience and possibly spurring a close examination of rumored lobbying violations and other questions of ethics, said Ed Black, president and CEO of the Computer and Communications Industry Association, in Washington.

"The more people who understand whats in this agreement, the better," Black said. "If the committee becomes convinced that this is a ridiculous settlement, then it does raise questions about just what happened."

The settlements proponents are eager to avoid hampering the approval process, which includes a public comment period required by the Tunney Act. The Senates activity in the case could suggest to the court that hearings should be held in the approval process as well, sources said.

Microsofts Dessler confirmed that the company is talking with the Judiciary Committee about participating in the hearing, but he would not say whether company officials are willing to testify.

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