Microsoft Judge Orders March Hearing

The federal judge overseeing the Microsoft Corp. antitrust case agreed on Friday to hold a hearing on the U.S. Justice Department's proposed settlement of the landmark case in early March, but said she may not make an immediate decision on whether to endorse the deal.

U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly quizzed lawyers from the company and the government on whether they would present her with issues common to both the settlement hearing and tougher sanctions against Microsoft sought by some of the states in the case.

Legal analysts said after the hearing that indicates that the states may get a chance to start making their case for more drastic sanctions against the company before the judge decides whether to endorse the settlement.

"I see the structure of the hearing as sort of an evolving process," Kollar-Kotelly said. "I'll be making decisions as I'm provided information."

The judge said she would hold a hearing on the settlement during the week of March 4, the week before proceedings are tentatively due to begin on the more drastic sanctions .

Lawyers for Microsoft and the Justice Department on Thursday had told the judge she should hold a one-day hearing on the proposed settlement and bar critics of the deal from participating at the hearing.

Kollar-Kotelly on Friday made no decision about how long the hearings would be or whether critics of the settlement will be allowed to participate.

The Justice Department and nine states in the case have signed on to a settlement that would, among other things, give computer makers more freedom to feature rival software.

But nine other states refused the settlement and are pressing the judge to impose stronger remedies against Microsoft for illegally maintaining its monopoly in personal computer operating systems.

Under a federal law called the Tunney Act, Kollar-Kotelly must determine whether the proposed antitrust settlement is in the public interest.

The dissenting states would find it more difficult to ask for tougher sanctions if Kollar-Kotelly endorsed the settlement before hearings on their arguments for stronger remedies.