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November 3, 2006

Gates, Ballmer to testify in Iowa

Posted by David Hunter at 5:48 PM ET.

In the latest round of the Iowa antitrust suit against Microsoft ([1], [2], [3]) the presiding judge has ruled that Bill Gates and Steve Ballmer will testify. That’s not a particular surprise since Microsoft had them on their witness list, but he has agreed to let them be questioned first and in person by the plaintiffs’ attorneys:

Des Moines lawyer Roxanne Conlin won a strategic victory today in her class action law suit against Microsoft when a judge said she can call Microsoft chairman Bill Gates and chief executive Steve Ballmer as witnesses to help prove her case against the company.

The earliest Gates and Ballmer might be called to Des Moines to testify, Conlin said, is January or February.

Gates and Ballmer were already listed as witnesses that Microsoft intended to call, once the defense began presenting its side of the case.

Under normal courtroom rules, Conlin could have used depositions from Gates and Ballmer to make her case, but would have had to wait until Microsoft lawyers had questioned the executives before she could question them in person before the jury.

She asked District Court Judge Scott Rosenberg for permission to question the men first, as part of her case, and Rosenberg granted that request in a ruling today.

Gates and Ballmer “are in important decision-making positions,” Rosenberg’s ruling said, and “the jury should be allowed to view them live during both parties’ case presentations.”

The Des Moines lawyer said she planned to ask the men about allegations of misconduct that have not been covered in previous legal cases, but declined to say what those are.

Microsoft’s lawyers say it’s no biggie, but Conlin says it’s a significant victory for her side. I say it’s hard to find entertainment like this.

However, things have not been going entirely Conlin’s way. Earlier in the week, the judge threw out part of her case:

A judge has derailed Des Moines lawyer Roxanne Conlin’s effort to create legal precedent in an Iowa class-action lawsuit against Microsoft, but other Microsoft attempts to impose limits on the scope of the case failed.

She said in court in September that she hoped to create a new legal theory for antitrust cases that would be similar to “loss of consortium” damage claims awarded to couples in personal injury cases.

The new claim, she said, was based on allegations that Microsoft had used its market dominance to discourage other software makers from producing products that would have been superior to the Web browser Internet Explorer and other Microsoft products.

Rosenberg ruled against the new theory. He sided with Microsoft and said that basing damage claims on “denial of free choice and loss of the benefits of software innovation are too speculative.”

Stay tuned.

Filed under Antitrust, Bill Gates, Executives, General Business, Governmental Relations, Legal, Microsoft, Steve Ballmer

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