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In an unprecedented approach to handling the hundred-plus private antitrust lawsuits filed against Microsoft, U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz of the District of Maryland met with a selection of judges and lead plaintiffs’ lawyers Tuesday at Chicago’s O’Hare Airport Hyatt Hotel to discuss methods for streamlining the process. On the agenda were plans to hammer out a way to consolidate depositions nationally, organize a central document depository and appoint a single “discovery master.” (Veteran California mediator Charles Renfrew, a former federal judge, is a leading candidate for that position.) Taking a coordinated approach to the flood of lawsuits — which stem from Microsoft’s antitrust trial and allege that the software giant overcharged consumers for the Windows operating system and other products — could save time and money in the high-stakes litigation process, which by Stanford University economist Robert Hall’s account could cost Microsoft upward of $7 billion in damages. Motz, who has jurisdiction in 63 private antitrust cases that have been consolidated in his Baltimore courtroom, says he called the confab of his state court colleagues who are in charge of several dozen other suits proceeding under state law “to see if there’s a way to deal with the practicalities” involved in the massive litigation. After all, because the suits cut across the jurisdictions of many different state and federal laws, lawyers face a formidable task. Judge Stuart Pollack, the San Francisco jurist who combined dozens of California lawsuits against Microsoft and certified them as a class action in August, has acknowledged that the lawyers making their way through the maze of Microsoft’s pricing policies and intermediate retailers will have an uphill struggle, and he welcomed the meeting, which he planned to attend. “The evidence is likely to be so massive that a coordinated approach nationally will make life easier for all of us,” Pollack says. University of Iowa law professor Herbert Hovenkamp, an antitrust authority who tracks the multiple cases against Microsoft, says this approach might be a first for private antitrust cases. “This is beyond my experience in an antitrust case,” he says. “But it makes a lot of sense it’s voluntary, because so much is on the line.” While most legal figures — and Microsoft’s representatives — welcome the move to coordinate efforts, the proposed meeting wasn’t without controversy. Eugene Crew, the veteran San Francisco antitrust practitioner who is lead counsel in the consolidated California class action that includes as many as 10 million users of Microsoft’s Windows, Excel and Word programs, says he fears Microsoft might try to use the consolidation process as an excuse to postpone the depositions that he wants to take from Chairman Bill Gates and other top company officers before the trial, scheduled for March 2002. “We suspect Microsoft will try rope-a-doping us by saying we have to slow down to the pace of the federal suits,” says Crew, who planned on attending today’s meeting, as did Microsoft’s lead outside counsel, David Tulchin of New York’s Sullivan & Cromwell, and two of Microsoft’s in-house counsel. But speaking on behalf of Microsoft, spokesman Jim Cullinan dismisses Crew’s statement, emphasizing the company’s support of a coordinated approach. “I’m not concerned that Mr. Crew is concerned,” he says. “Coordination is clearly in the best interest of all the parties.” Copyright � 2000 The Industry Standard

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