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A Less-Public Path to Changes In Antitrust

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Throughout Microsoft Corp.'s long-running defense against charges that it broke antitrust laws was an intriguing subtext: Technology industries are so new and different that many aspects of traditional antitrust law don't apply.

It's a thorny issue, one that Congress might even touch on when it considers a nominee to replace R. Hewitt Pate, who resigned this week as head the antitrust division at the Justice Department.

But as usual in today's Washington, the important decisions don't get ironed out in places as public as congressional hearings. Instead, significant revisions of U.S. antitrust law are being hashed out by a group composed mainly of lawyers who represent large companies.

And Microsoft -- found to be an illegal monopolist on two continents -- is likely to have some influential allies.

The work is being carried out by an organization called the Antitrust Modernization Commission. Created by Congress in 2002, the commission is examining a series of questions that challenge long-standing antitrust enforcement policies.

The head of the 12-member commission is Deborah A. Garza, a partner at Fried, Frank, Harris, Shriver & Jacobson LLP in Washington. Garza's partner and close associate in the firm, Charles F. Rule, represents Microsoft in court proceedings that monitor the company's compliance with its consent decree with the Justice Department.

Also on the commission is John L. Warden, based in New York with the firm of Sullivan & Cromwell LLP. The gravelly-voiced Warden was Microsoft's lead outside attorney during much of its case.
Alan J. Meese, the commission's senior adviser and a law professor at William & Mary, wrote papers during the case arguing against the government's proposal to break up Microsoft into two companies.

For several months, the commission has been soliciting requests for topics to study and recommendations on the issues it decided to address. Actively participating in submitting suggestions is a task force of the American Bar Association led by Richard J. Wallis, an in-house Microsoft attorney who heads the ABA's antitrust section.

The issues the commission is tackling could have broad impact, and many are near and dear to Microsoft. Among them: Full Story.

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