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Plaintiffs in Microsoft Case Won't Call Gates

Gates deposition from 1998 tobe used in case in lieu of appearance that would "cause disruption."

(Des Moines, Iowa) The attorney representing plaintiffs in one of the few state-level class-action antitrust lawsuits left against Microsoft Corp. announced Monday that she would not call Chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer as witnesses.

Roxanne Conlin won a judge's ruling prior to the trial that would have forced Gates and Ballmer to travel to Des Moines for direct questioning even though the two executives were expected to testify later in the case when Microsoft presents its defense.

Judge Scott Rosenberg's ruling indicated that Gates and Ballmer would be required to travel to Des Moines from Washington only once. That would have allowed Microsoft attorneys to question the two men directly -- in effect presenting part of their defense in the middle of the plaintiffs' case.

Conlin released a statement Monday that said the decision was reached to avoid any potential confusion by jurors.

"I am concerned such a disruption of our case may create unnecessary confusion for the jurors," Conlin said. "There is absolutely no reason to have such a disruption in light of the defense's promise to call Bill Gates as a witness."

The Iowa lawsuit claims Microsoft violated Iowa's competition laws and seeks about $330 million for Iowans who have purchased the software maker's products since 1994.

Microsoft attorney Rich Wallis said Friday that many of the allegations Conlin is making are 15 to 20 years old and the company resolved many of the issues years ago. Wallis said the case is about whether Iowans paid fair prices for computer software, and the company will show that consumers received a good value for their money.

The lawsuit was originally filed in 2000, after federal antitrust actions against Microsoft were settled. It has already been before the Iowa Supreme Court three times on various legal issues and been sent back to Polk County District Court for trial.

Conlin will be allowed to play a 10-hour unflattering 1998 deposition by Gates from another lawsuit that shows a fidgety, nervous looking chief executive.

She has said the videotape will give jurors "good insight into the motivation and business practices of Microsoft."

Microsoft has planned on calling Gates and Ballmer as witnesses from the outset of the trial and said Conlin's change in strategy does not affect their case.

The change will mean Gates and Ballmer will come later next year. Both men are expected to be on the witness stand for about four days.

The jury of seven men and five women have been told the case will likely last about six months.

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