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Change proposed in EU Microsoft case

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Microsoft

The top judge of the European Union's second-highest court has proposed changing judges in the Microsoft Corp. antitrust case, according to a letter sent to all parties in the case.

The move, shared with Reuters on Sunday by some of those who have seen the one-paragraph letter sent Friday, comes after internal court criticism directed at the judge heading the Microsoft case because of a controversial article he wrote.

The letter lays out plans by Court of First Instance President Bo Vesterdorf to transfer the case away from the current judge and panel to a larger panel which Vesterdorf will head.

The European Commission found in March 2004 that Microsoft used its dominance to compete unfairly, fined the world's No. 1 software company 497 million euros ($608.8 million) and ordered it to change its business practices.

Microsoft sued and its case has been making its way through the Court of First Instance in Luxembourg before a five-judge panel headed by Judge Hubert Legal.

But Legal got into hot water at the court after he published an article in the French journal Concurrences (Competition) saying that some of the judges' clerks tended to regard themselves as "ayatollahs of free enterprise" and should avoid an impression of "arbitrary power."

These young "ayatollahs" can gain a central role when they speak the language of deliberations -- the working language of the court is French -- better than the judges, the article said. That angered judges and clerks at the court, numerous sources said.

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