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MS cites kidnap fears in bid to keep execs' wealth out of court

Everywhere, kidnappers' ears prick up...

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Minnesota's class action against Microsoft, scheduled to go to trial on March 1st, is showing unexpected potential. Yes, it is yet another everyday story of (allegedly) overcharging folk, but Microsoft has been attempting to stop details of how rich its witnesses are coming out in court, and the rival attorneys have been scrapping in the hallways.

According to the Star Tribune, plaintiffs' attorneys wished to tell jurors all about the Microsoft stock owned by the present and former employees that Microsoft intends to call as witnesses. Microsoft's attorneys however argue that "some of those witnesses fear their children might be kidnapped if their vast wealth -- in some cases hundreds of millions of dollars -- were disclosed."

Which is a peculiar argument, really. Even not very efficient kidnappers who don't do their background reading homework will probably have grasped that most senior Microsoft execs are as rich as Croesus, and spectacularly useless kidnappers who can at least hobble their way through the local press are now - thanks to Microsoft's attorneys - well-aware that the witnesses the company proposes to call are dripping with the stuff.

So it's a silly argument that destroys itself. But the argument that knowledge of the worth of the witnesses might prejudice the jury is more credible, and is currently being considered by the judge, on the basis that although it is relevant, it could be prejudicial. So can the ordinary citizenry be trusted to be impartial when confronted by vast wealth, or will it automatically leap to the conclusion that it was dishonestly obtained? We may have a zeitgeist issue do nos jours brewing here.

As regards the scrapping, a Microsoft attorney told plaintiffs' attorneys they should be ashamed of themselves, while the latter claim Microsoft is trying to suppress evidence that Microsoft has already been ruled an illegal monopoly by a federal court. Tame stuff, but if they're cross enough to abuse one another in front of reporters, then we could yet see fisticuffs. ®

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