MS/DOJ: case won't resume before May 10

The judge in the Microsoft antitrust trial acknowledged today that the trial will not resume until May 10 at the earliest, while remaining mum about settlement negotiations that began Tuesday.

US District Court Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson said that a case he has been presiding over since this case broke for a six-week recess earlier this month has taken longer than he expected. During a scheduling hearing in the Microsoft case today, Jackson set the timetable for additional depositions, discovery and for both sides to reveal whom they intend to call as rebuttal witnesses when the case resumes.

The judge did not address the settlement negotiations that are now underway between Microsoft, the US Justice Department and representatives of the 19 states that brought antitrust allegations against the software manufacturer. Those talks began Tuesday after Microsoft last week circulated a proposal for settlement. Government lawyers said the proposal fell far short of their demands.

Both sides remained silent on the ongoing negotiations today.

"The parties with respect to this issue are of a single mind," said David Boies, the government's lead attorney, flanked by Connecticut Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, Iowa Attorney General Tom Miller and Microsoft's chief counsel William Neukom. "If there are going to be constructive settlement discussions those discussions can not take place in the public. As a result none of us will have any comment whatsoever about settlement discussions."

Inside the courtroom, Jackson told attorneys that he would allow each side to call three rebuttal witnesses of their choice, not necessarily including the recall of the economists both sides had relied upon during the initial phase of the trial. In clarifying his ruling, Jackson said he would also allow the sides more time to determine which witnesses to call, ordering both sides to make the identities of their witnesses known by April 23.

Jackson also clarified how he intends to conclude the trial. He said he will allow both sides 30 days from the conclusion of the rebuttal case to draft "findings of fact" and separate "points of law." He also said he will allow for closing arguments in court. Subsequently, Jackson will rule on the findings of fact and the findings of law.

Attorneys for Microsoft said they are planning to depose America Online chief executive Steve Case in late April, in addition to unnamed executives from Sun Microsystems and Netscape Communications regarding the joint venture those companies have entered into.

The trial is not set to resume until May 10 but could possibly be further delayed, depending upon when the other case the judge is presiding over goes to the jury.

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