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Microsoft's appeal against a European Union antitrust order will be heard by Bo Vesterdorf, the judge who rejected the company's attempt in December to suspend the decision.
The European Court of First Instance in Luxembourg said yesterday that it told Microsoft and regulators that the case had been moved to the Grand Chamber, which is led by Vesterdorf. The case had originally been assigned to a five-judge panel led by Hubert Legal.
"Microsoft will be delighted with this," Ronald Cass, president of the legal consulting firm Cass & Associates and a consultant to Microsoft, said in an interview in Monaco. "The prior chamber was more skeptical about Microsoft's position.
Vesterdorf is a very open and thoughtful fellow, and that's all Microsoft can ask for."
But Thomas Vinje, a Brussels, Belgium, attorney who represents Microsoft competitors involved in the case, said the change is neutral.
"I do not believe it is likely to have any significant effect in either direction, but in any event I do not believe it is likely to enhance Microsoft's chances of success," he said.
The Redmond company, whose software runs more than 90 percent of the world's personal computers, was ordered by the European Commission in March 2004 to license information about the inner workings of its Windows operating system to competitors. The company said the EU decision would cause "irreparable harm" to its business.
The commission, the EU's antitrust regulator, fined Microsoft a record $593 million as part of its March 2004 decision.
"We look forward to presenting our case," said Tom Brookes, a Microsoft spokesman. Commission spokesman Jonathan Todd declined to comment.
Legal, who was the reporting judge for the case, has been replaced in that role by Irish Judge John Cooke, the court said.
Cass said Vesterdorf took the unusual step of taking over the case because of Legal's controversial comments in an editorial published in the French legal magazine Concurrences. Legal called clerks at the court "ayatollahs of the free market."
"Judge Legal compromised himself by making those comments," Cass said.
In Microsoft's U.S. antitrust case, a U.S. appeals court overturned former Judge Thomas Jackson's order to break up the software giant and disqualified him from overseeing further proceedings in the case because he had granted interviews to reporters during the trial.
The EU court's Grand Chamber last assembled to hear arguments on whether World Trade Organization rulings are binding in EU member states.
In the past two years, rulings by Vesterdorf and other judges have highlighted the Court of First Instance's growing role as a check on the commission's power, overturning three antitrust decisions.