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Microsoft trial schedule in peril as judge bows to media

Circus trial looks possible, and the dates now look optimistic

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The schedule of the Microsoft antitrust trial looked set to derail yesterday, following a ruling that depositions to be given by Bill Gates and other Microsoft executives should be in public. And this time the judge and Microsoft seem to be singing from similar, concerned, hymn sheets. Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson accepted arguments put forward by the New York Times, Seattle Times and Reuters that a US law, the Publicity in Taking of Evidence Act, covered the situation, and that they ought therefore to be allowed to report the depositions. The judge didn't say so, but it would seem that the deposition-taking will now contain all of the essential ingredients of a classic US media circus. Microsoft is concerned as always that the presence of reporters could endanger its trade secrets, and the judge has specifically given the company leave to appeal his ruling. Microsoft hasn't yet decided whether or not to do this, but Bill Gates' deposition, which was due to start this week, will certainly be delayed while the arrangements for coverage are worked out. If Microsoft does appeal they - and the 8 September trial date - will undoubtedly be delayed again. The Department of Justice takes the view that public depositions are acceptable, and that Microsoft can be protected by sensitive questions being taken in camera. But even agreeing what these are could cause delay, and the trial may be tottering on the brink of messy farce.

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