New York Times
October 19, 1998

Odd Rules on Testimony, Strict Rules on Seating


WASHINGTON -- The judge who is hearing the Government's antitrust case against the Microsoft Corporation without a jury has imposed unusual procedures that make this trial different from most civil lawsuits.

Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson of United States District Court, concerned that the trial not continue too long, has limited to 12 the number of witnesses each side is allowed to call, and much of the testimony had been taken before the trial began today.

In most trials, witnesses are called to the stand to answer questions posed by lawyers for the side that asked them to testify. Then lawyers for the other side are given the chance to cross-examine them.

In this case, Microsoft and lawyers from the Justice Department and 20 states have already conducted the direct examination of their witnesses and submitted it to the court as text documents. The testimony of each witness will be released to the news media on the afternoon before the day that the witness is expected to be cross-examined. The only testimony that will be heard in court is the cross-examination, although Judge Jackson has said that he will consider expanding the number of witnesses allowed if good cause can be shown.

Because of the intense industry and media interest in the case, the judge has also imposed strict ground rules for who is allowed into the courtroom.

Half the courtroom, roughly 40 seats, is reserved for representatives of the news media who obtained credentials from the court in advance. The other half are open to the public on a first-come basis. Lines for the public seats began forming late Sunday night for the opening session today.

Judge Jackson has prohibited line-holding, a common practice among Washington lawyers and lobbyists who pay someone to arrive early and stand in the queue to obtain a public seat at popular hearings with limited space. And any spectators who leave the line or Judge Jackson's courtroom lose their seats.

Both sides anticipate that the trial will last through Thanksgiving. And if Judge Jackson rules against Microsoft, there could be more hearings to determine penalties the company should face.

Jeri Clausing at welcomes your comments and suggestions.