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"Special master" to aid Java suit

A federal judge wants help in determining which documents should be unsealed in the lawsuit filed by Sun against Microsoft.

A federal judge said today that he wants to appoint a "special master" to help determine which documents should be unsealed in the ongoing lawsuit filed by Sun Microsystems against Microsoft over Java.

Sun, the San Jose Mercury News, and Ziff-Davis all have filed motions to make public various sealed court documents in the case.

In a hearing today, U.S. District Court Judge Ronald Whyte said he wants a special master, likely a retired court judge, to review the requests and decide which documents can be released based on criteria that will be set by lawyers for all parties. Judge Whyte would then make the final decision as to what would be unsealed.

Lawyers for Sun and Microsoft will meet this weekend to draw up guidelines, according to Lisa Poulson, a spokeswoman for Sun. On Monday, the media companies' lawyers will review the proposals and on Tuesday the lawyers will submit the draft proposal to the judge, who will then move forward to pick a special master.

"Once Judge Whyte has reviewed, approved, and established the procedure, and a special master has been appointed, Sun's motion to unseal will be considered, as will the motions of the Mercury News and Ziff-Davis," Poulson said.

Any documents that are unsealed will be available to all media outlets as well as the public.

A hearing is set for September 4 to hear Sun's motion to force changes in Microsoft's implementation of Java technology. The two sides will argue over Sun's request for a preliminary injunction that would force Microsoft to either change its implementation of Java, stop distributing the technology, or ship Sun's version along with its own.

Sun licensed Java, a programming language, to Microsoft in March 1996, but filed suit last year, claiming the software giant was violating terms of that license. Sun executives contend that by shipping a nonstandard version of Java in its Internet Explorer 4.0 browser and a software developer's kit, Microsoft is undermining Java's promise of cross-platform compatibility.

Dan Goodin contributed to this report.