Judge Threatens Microsoft, Private Plaintiffs With Ruling
The judge overseeing the private antitrust cases against Microsoft Corp. has told the parties he will rule next Thursday on whether or not to accept the proposed preliminary settlement unless there is significant progress in the mediation efforts currently under way.
Steve Benz, a partner at law firm Kellog, Huber, Hansen, Todd & Evans, in Washington, D.C., and co-counsel for the California plaintiffs, told eWEEK that Maryland Federal District Judge J. Frederick Motz has informed the parties that he will rule on the preliminary settlement on Jan. 10 unless there is progress in the mediation efforts.
While also confirming that mediation efforts are continuing between Microsoft and lawyers for the plaintiffs to try to iron out a settlement for the more than 100 private antitrust cases against the Redmond, Wash., software company, Benz declined to elaborate further due to the confidentiality order in place.
The parties formally met on Dec. 18 with mediator Ken Feinberg -- without any resolution -- with Feinberg at the time asking them to keep the window of mediation open.
Microsoft spokesman Jim Desler also confirmed today that the process remains open and mediation attempts continue. "There is open dialogue between us, but I cant disclose any specifics regarding that as a result of the confidentiality order," Desler said.
The private antitrust cases were brought against Microsoft last year following the ruling by U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson that the company had violated two sections of the Sherman Antitrust Act.
While a proposed settlement is already on the table and parties have already argued its merits before Motz, some California class-action lawyers have opposed the deal and have asked the judge to strike down the settlement or allow their lawsuits to proceed separately in California.
They, and other parties like Apple Computer Inc., feel the settlement negotiated by Microsoft and the other class-action lawyers is a ploy designed to entrench the Windows monopoly while allowing the company to pay back only a fraction of what it actually owes consumers.
Motz has himself expressed concern about the deal, which would give the nations poorest schools computers and software estimated at $1 billion. He is worried about including California in the proposed settlement and thus ordered the parties to meet with the mediator to hammer out more acceptable terms for all.