State AGs: We Won't Give Up

Connecticut attorney general Richard Blumenthal
AP
No matter what happens to the Microsoft antitrust case in a future presidential administration, the state attorneys general say they will stand firm in their attempt to break Microsoft in two.

Reacting to Microsoft's filing this week contesting much of the breakup order, the state law enforcement officials say they are as determined as at the start of their two-year effort to end what they call a monopoly by the world's largest software maker.

"The states are committed to litigate this to conclusion," Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal said Tuesday. "We're in for the long haul."

Microsoft's filing Monday asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia for a very long schedule and called into question 19 separate facets of the U.S. District Court's June decision to break up the company,

On Tuesday, the Justice Department threw down the gauntlet and took the rare step of filing its proposed schedule two days before it was due. That proposal recommends a much faster schedule and shorter court briefs than Microsoft wants. The government said the company should be able to reply to its proposal before its Oct. 10 deadline, too.

There has been some speculation by government officials and analysts that Microsoft is trying to delay the breakup until the fast-paced computer market changes in their favor or a Republican administration takes over. The Republican nominee, Texas Gov. George W. Bush, has been supportive of Microsoft in the past.

The government's schedule would set oral arguments for January, when a new administration takes over. Microsoft's proposal would extend the filing of court papers at least into March.

Antitrust expert William E. Kovacic of George Washington University said his research has found no instance in which an incoming administration has abandoned a case as large as the Microsoft suit, although he said Bush probably would be willing to settle on terms more favorable to Microsoft.

Kovacic also criticized Microsoft's tactics. He said the company is "overreaching" and is liable to wear thin any leeway it might have with the appeals court.

A spokesman for Iowa Attorney General Thomas Miller agreed with the Connecticut attorney general that the states will not back down.

"The states will pursue it," Miller's spokesman, Bob Brammer, said. "We are full partners and have full status as plaintiffs in the case, and we will continue the case."

In its proposal Tuesday, the Justice Department noted that U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson has stayed not only his breakup order but also, at the company's request, his restrictions on company conduct before the breakup is complete. Given the stay, "it is essential for effective antitrust law enforcement in a critical sector of the nation's economy that the appeal be concluded expeditiously," the antitrust division told the appeals court.

Of the company's request for vastly expanded pge limits, the department said, "There is no justification for this extraordinary request. This is an appeal, not a retrial. ... (The) legal issues do not differ significantly in complexity or scope from those presented in any civil antitrust case."

The company had argued that extended time and extra pages were needed because of the complexity of the case. In a statement responding to the Justice Department filing, Microsoft said Tuesday the company has "suggested a schedule and briefing length that will allow for a prompt and efficient process to consider the appeal" while the company raises a broad number of issues.

Blumenthal said he was confident that the Court of Appeals would support the lower court's decision.

"I think that the judge's conclusions of fact and law will be upheld, they are so solidly grounded in the evidence and the law," Blumenthal said. He said, "Prolonging the (appeals) process creates additional cost, uncertainty and harm to consumers."

By D. Ian Hopper
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