A federal appeals court has put the brakes on the special master in the US Department of Justice's antitrust case against Microsoft. The US Court of Appeals in the District of Columbia Circuit suspended Harvard Law School professor Lawrence Lessig's work as special master but said that the move should not hamper discovery in the case.
"It is a very positive step for us, certainly, but it is important to remember that it is just one step in a deliberative process," said Microsoft spokesman Adam Sohn.
Justice Department officials were not immediately available for comment. Microsoft had argued that US District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson overstepped his jurisdiction by appointing a special master in the case.
The company also said that Lessig has a favorable bias toward Netscape Communications and other Microsoft competitors. "Far from advancing an 'orderly' determination of 'relevant' legal issues, Professor Lessig has injected unnecessary complexity into a relatively straightforward proceeding," Microsoft's lawyers argued in a brief filed last Friday.
In December, Jackson appointed Lessig as a special adviser to collect evidence and take testimony on the government's charges. Last month, Jackson rejected a motion by Microsoft to remove Lessig from the case. The government accused Microsoft last fall of breaking a 1995 antitrust consent decree that prohibited the company from tying the licensing of Windows 95 to another software product -- in this case, the Internet Explorer browser.
Microsoft argued that its Windows-Internet Explorer marriage was
protected by a passage in the consent decree regarding the integration of new products into the operating system. Jackson ordered Microsoft to allow PC makers to license Windows 95 without requiring them to pre-install the company's Internet Explorer Web browser. Two weeks ago, the government and Microsoft reached a compromise, but the company still is appealing the court's order. In its one-page ruling, the three-judge appeals court set oral arguments on Lessig's appointment for April 21.
Microsoft and the government must file briefs with the court by April 7. Lessig had been scheduled to report back to Jackson by May 31.