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MS trial lawyer in legal action against Christie's, Sotheby's

Considering the provenance of the defendants, it's appropriate it's a class action...

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David Boies, chosen by the National Law Journal as Lawyer of the Year and by the Department of Justice as lead trial counsel against Microsoft, is now also leading the charge in a class action against Sotheby's and Christie's. The two auction houses are alleged to have limited competition on commissions for both sellers and buyers for most of the 1990s. The chairmen of both companies have resigned.

Boies' firm Boies, Schiller & Flexner was chosen by a federal judge in New York because it wanted the lowest fees for representing the disgruntled dealers and purchasers. It was said at the beginning of the Microsoft trial that Boies was charging the DoJ half his usual fees.

Christie's then chairman Christopher Davidge attacked Sotheby's in January last year when its plan to launch sothebys.com was announced, saying that "Christie's will not be proposing any arrangements that restrict competition". But at the end of the year, Davidge told Francois Pinault, the new Christie's owner, that he had evidence of a commission-fixing arrangement with Sotheby's. Pinaut immediately turned over the evidence to the DoJ in exchange for immunity from prosecution.

There would appear to be a lesson in this story for Microsoft - but there also remains the possibility that the European Commission could fine both auction houses ten per cent of their worldwide revenues. ®

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