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Gates to Testify for the First Time in 4-Year Microsoft Antitrust Case

Courts: Software giant's chairman will tell judge that the proposed remedy sought by the non-settling states would harm industry.

April 20, 2002|From Times Wire Services

Microsoft Corp. Chairman Bill Gates will testify against the antitrust sanctions sought by nine states still pursuing the landmark case against the software giant.

It will be the first time Gates testifies in the historic four-year case.

Gates gave a sworn deposition before the original trial, and videotaped portions of it were played in the courtroom in 1998 and 1999, prompting U.S. Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson to describe him as evasive and forgetful.

Jackson's comments about Gates' testimony in interviews to reporters contributed to his removal from the case.

Gates, the world's richest man, "will speak to the potential harm to consumers and the industry posed by the non-settling states' remedy proposals" in his testimony before U.S. District Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, Microsoft said Friday.

More specifically, Gates will tell the judge that the stricter sanctions would hobble collaboration in the computer industry, according to a company spokesman.

The nine states have refused to sign on to a settlement of the case reached between Microsoft and the Justice Department in November.

In February, Microsoft named Gates along with Chief Executive Steve Ballmer and 11 other company executives as possible witnesses for the hearings on the states' demands.

But until Friday, it was unclear when--or even whether --Gates would appear in court.

The case will enter its sixth week Monday. Gates is to testify on that day after lawyers for the states finish questioning another Microsoft executive, David Cole.

The choice to put Gates on the stand could be a risky one for Microsoft.

Many of the most damaging statements and e-mails during the liability phase of the trial came from Gates, and he has a reputation of being easily frustrated with people who are not technically savvy.

"It's hard to know whether this is the lawyer's idea or the client's idea," said Dana Hayter, a San Francisco antitrust attorney.

Hayter said Gates' mission on the stand will be to "sound reasonable."

"If instead the impression is that he views [the remedies] as either a personal attack or an attack on Microsoft, and he's concerned more about why it hurts Microsoft than why it hurts the consumer, then the mission won't be achieved," Hayter said.

During opening arguments in the case five weeks ago, an attorney for the states told Kollar-Kotelly that Gates was being similarly evasive this time around.

When asked at a pre-hearing interview whether the settlement would allow Microsoft to use the same tactics that landed it in court, Gates replied, "There's not enough data in this summary to allow me to answer that."

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