Microsoft pans U.S. government’s proposal

In a brief filed on Thursday, Microsoft Corp. accused the U.S. Department of Justice of trying to “short-circuit” the company’s appeal of a federal judge’s ruling that it is an illegal monopoly and of his order that the software giant be split in two.

“Given that the decision below threatens Microsoft’s very existence, Microsoft has a responsibility to its employees, shareholders, business partners and customers, as well as to this court, to propose an appellate process that is adequate to resolve the many issues presented,” Microsoft’s legal team stated in the brief. “The proceedings Microsoft has proposed are the minimum necessary to achieve that objective.”

On Monday, Microsoft urged the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia to give each side 60 days after a schedule is set to file preliminary briefs, and another 30 days to file supplemental briefs. That plan would drag the appeal well into 2001.

The Justice Department immediately protested, saying Microsoft was employing a stalling tactic by seeking to further draw out the case, which has dragged on for more than two years already. Instead, the government argued, the brief’ process should be wrapped up by the end of 2000.

In his findings of fact, U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson said last November that Microsoft had violated federal antitrust laws, and in April Jackson formally found the Redmond, Wash. software company guilty. In June he declared that Microsoft should be broken into two separate firms, and adhere to a strict set of business regulations. The remedy was set aside until the company’s appeals process was completed.

In its brief on Thursday, Microsoft also disputed the government’s contention that it was seeking to retry the case by asking for more than the usual number of pages to state its case. Microsoft’s attorneys argued that the complexities of the case demanded the extra space.

“It is clear from appellees’ proposal that they seek not to minimize this court’s burden, but to impose unfair limitations on Microsoft’s ability to present its arguments on appeal,” Microsoft said.

Now that Microsoft’s reply has been filed, the appeals court will rule on the schedule and briefs length issues. That ruling could come as soon as next week.