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Appeals Court Halts Microsoft Breakup; Disqualifies District Judge

The Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has reversed U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson’s ruling to split Microsoft into two companies.

While the appeals court found merit in some of Judge Jackson’s findings that Microsoft had violated the Sherman Antitrust Act, it rejected other findings and ruled that Judge Jackson had behaved improperly in the case by discussing his views on Microsoft and the case in a series of media interviews. The appeals court has ordered Judge Jackson removed from the case, which will be sent back to the U.S. District Court for its review of the monopoly claims that were upheld by the court.

In its en banc, Per Curiam decision, the appeals court wrote harshly of Judge Jackson’s media activities, in which he was said to have called Microsoft a "murderous street gang," and allegedly compared the company to drug traffickers. The appeals court found "the line has been crossed" and Jackson’s actions had "seriously tainted the proceedings," and "Public confidence in judicial impartiality cannot survive if judges, in disregard of their ethical obligations, pander to the press." According to the court, disqualification is mandatory for "conduct that calls a judge’s impartiality into question." The court also faulted Judge Jackson for not holding an evidentiary hearing during the remedy phase of the case to give the parties a chance to dispute the facts they disagreed with, which is a "basic procedural right."

The appeals court reversed Judge Jackson’s finding that Microsoft had illegally tried to monopolize the Internet browser market. And, the court remanded the lower court’s finding that Microsoft had violated federal antitrust law by tying its browser to its operating system.

The case will now await reassignment to a new trial judge. House Majority Leader Richard Armey (R-Texas) is already calling the decision a victory. "Our antitrust laws should not be used to hold our most successful companies back to give the competition a chance to catch up. That kind of tired economic thinking is exactly what our new economy does not need."

To sum up, the court affirmed in part, reversed in part, remanded in part, and in the end vacated in full the final judgement.


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