OK. So, the European Union's antitrust case hasn't gone quite back to square one. In fact, it's not even clear what square it has gone back to. But, in what appears to be a case of history repeating itself, it has definitely gone back.
Reminiscent of how a new judge was assigned to the Microsoft antitrust case in the U.S. after one of the first judges to try the case (Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson) made public statements that left critics wondering whether his personal bias played a role in his findings and decision (the one to break Microsoft up), it looks as though the EU's case is headed down a similar path. Only this time, the assignment of the new judge (or perhaps judges) is most definitely connected with the existing judge's public statements.
According to a Reuters report, the top judge of the European Union's second-highest court has proposed the change after internal court criticism was directed at the current judge because of a controversial article he wrote. In that article, EU Judge Hubert Legal (yes, "Legal" is his last name) labeled some members of the Court's staff as "ayatollahs of free enterprise" that may be going too far in wielding "arbitrary power." Wrote Legal, "Nothing is as distressing as the display of arbitrary power substituting a new assessment that is not necessarily more fitting or better law, nearly always made by people who know less about the file, in place of the judgment of people with a profound knowledge of the situation."
On the heels of Legal's statements, EU Court of First Instance President Bo Vesterdorf has proposed a transfer of the case away from Legal and his panel to a larger panel which Vesterdorf will head. So far, no one is quite sure how this mid-course change of direction will impact the final outcome -- originally on target for closure by mid-2006. It could swing the case in Microsoft's favor, or swing it against. Although the proceedings bear a striking resemblance to what happened when the US Court of Appeals remanded Circuit Court Judge Penfield Jackson's decision back to the Circuit Court (resulting in the assignment of a new Circuit Court judge), the Appeals Court made it clear that its decision had nothing to do with the public statements made by Penfield Jackson and that it only took his official findings of fact and final decision based on those findings into consideration. In 2000, after he held that Microsoft had violated US antitrust law, Penfield Jackson likened Microsoft to a drug-dealing gang and Bill Gates to Napoleon.