U.S. judge in city to oversee Microsoft pretrial motions; 27 class action suits involving monopoly are consolidated; Antitrust cases


WASHINGTON -- Private, class action lawsuits filed against Microsoft Corp. in the wake of a court finding that the software giant is a predatory monopolist are being consolidated for pretrial proceedings before a federal judge in Baltimore.

U.S. District Judge J. Frederick Motz, who has presided over long-running efforts to settle lawsuits accusing Honda Motor Co. of shipping fewer automobiles to dealers who refused to pay kickbacks to company executives, was assigned this week pretrial motions in 27 cases against Microsoft.

The software giant is facing more than 140 lawsuits in 38 states brought by customers seeking triple damages alleging that Microsoft overcharged them for its dominant Windows operating system and other software. Another 35 suits have been consolidated in federal courts in California.

"We are pleased the process is moving ahead," said Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan.

The U.S. Judicial Panel on Multidistrict Litigation, which considers requests to consolidate similar cases that have been filed against the same defendant, assigned the 27 cases to Motz, who is chief judge of the U.S. District Court of Maryland.

The order specified that other related cases also would be assigned to Motz.

More than 50 of the cases in federal courts will likely end up before Motz.

The panel brushed aside objections by plaintiffs' lawyers that consolidating the lawsuits before one judge would be too cumbersome, saying that "relevant discovery, including expert testimony, will overlap substantially in each action." Consolidation is necessary "to eliminate duplicative discovery, prevent inconsistent pretrial rulings ... and conserve the resources of the parties, their counsel and the judiciary."

The flood of litigation was unleashed in November after the judge presiding over the government's landmark antitrust case found in a preliminary decision that Microsoft had a monopoly over personal computer operating software.

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