WASHINGTON – A federal judge Monday rejected Microsoft Corp.'s request to delay hearings on what sanctions should be applied against the software giant for violating U.S. antitrust law.
The decision against delay means the remedy hearings remain on a parallel track with separate hearings on a proposed settlement of the case reached between the U.S. Justice Department and nine other states.
The timing of these hearings is important, legal analysts say. Endorsement of the settlement, far in advance of hearings on further remedies, would make the dissenting states' effort to get stronger sanctions much more difficult, they have said.
U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly stuck to her timetable for remedy hearings beginning March 11 even though Microsoft complained that nine states still pursuing the case had dramatically expanded the scope of possible sanctions.
Microsoft also complained that it was having difficulty obtaining documents from some companies named as witnesses in the remedy proceedings by the nine states.
But Judge Kollar-Kotelly brushed aside those concerns for now. "The schedule is still workable and I'm expecting the parties to adhere to it," she said in court.
Judge Kollar-Kotelly came into court Monday saying she was not going to grant a delay or limit the scope of remedies she will consider.
After hearing from Microsoft, the judge was still unmoved on its complaint about the scope of remedies, saying the non-settling states' proposals were "still within the universe of what this case is about."
But Kollar-Kotelly did warn other companies named as witnesses to cooperate with Microsoft's requests for documents or face being dropped from the case.
"I am most certainly not going to hear from them if they're not cooperative," she said. "I want that message to go out loud and clear."
Kollar-Kotelly said she would hold another hearing in February to review progress in the case.
An appeals court in June upheld findings that the company violated antitrust law by illegally maintaining its monopoly in personal computer operating systems. But it rejected breaking up the company as a remedy for the illegal acts.
The proposed settlement would require Microsoft to take steps to give computer makers more freedom to feature rival software on their machines and share parts of the inner workings of the Windows operating system with other software makers.
But the nine dissenting state attorneys general say the settlement is inadequate. They have asked Kollar-Kotelly to order Microsoft to sell a cheaper, stripped-down version of Windows and to give competitors access to the inner workings of the Internet Explorer browser.
In addition, the hold-out states want the judge to ensure that Microsoft Office, the popular business software, will be compatible with other software platforms.
The non-settling states have said Microsoft had plenty of warning they would likely seek broad conduct remedies.