In a surprising move, Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson on Tuesday ruled that the public and the media can attend all future depositions being conducted in the U.S. Department of Justice vs. Microsoft lawsuit - including that involving Chairman and CEO Bill Gates.
The ruling comes after an emergency hearing held Tuesday morning to hear arguments on a motion filed by a number of news organisations, including Ziff-Davis, The New York Times and The Seattle Times, asking the court to order all pre-trial depositions open to the media.
The ruling could delay the start of the historic antitrust trial, scheduled for Sept. 8. Judge Jackson this afternoon issued a stay on all future depositions --- including the scheduled Wednesday deposition of Gates --- until an orderly process can be hammered out to accommodate the influx of attendees now certain to be present. Gates was originally scheduled to be deposed today in Seattle starting at 9 a.m. PST. Lawyers handling the case for the media organisations said it is "99.9 percent sure" that that deposition will not be held as originally planned.
Also needing to be resolved is how the parties will handle questions and answers pertaining to trade secrets in the case. A protective order issued on May 27 said members of the public may not gain access to "Confidential" or "Highly Confidential" business information (as defined by the protective order). The DoJ did not have an immediate comment on the ruling.
Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan said the company is considering its next step. "We are concerned about the possible ramifications of this decision on our pretrial preparation and moving this trial forward," Cullinan said, adding that the company is particularly worried about protecting confidential information. Judge Jackson did leave the door open for either the DoJ or Microsoft to appeal his ruling.
It is unclear exactly what impact the ruling will have on the start of the trial, as Judge Jackson told the parties involved to deliver to the court an "agreed form of order establishing a protocol for affording access." No future hearing is scheduled on the matter, however, and Judge Jackson did not place a deadline on when a process should be finalised