Microsoft Doesn't Want Public At Witness Interviews

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Microsoft on Wednesday asked the federal judge in its antitrust case to bar the public from attending a pre-hearing questioning of witnesses in the remainder of the landmark legal battle.

An appeals court in 1999 sided with news organizations in opening pretrial depositions to the public in the Microsoft case under the relatively obscure Publicity in Taking Evidence Act of 1913.

But Microsoft argued in a filing with U.S. District Court Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly that the law applied only to proceedings brought by the U.S. government, which has now agreed to settle along with nine of the states who joined the case.

Nine other states attorneys general are seeking stronger sanctions against Microsoft to prevent future violations of antitrust law and have named witnesses for hearings due to begin March 11.

The software giant asked Kollar-Kotelly to either vacate the earlier orders of the original trial judge regarding public depositions of witnesses or declare that the 1913 law does not apply to the non-settling states' action.

Microsoft says it had discussed the matter with the non-settling states and they had no objection.

Among witnesses named for the remedy hearings are Microsoft CEO Steve Ballmer as well as executives from competitors such as America Online and Sun Microsystems, and officials from telecommunications giants SBC Communications and Nokia.

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