Gates depositions open to public

News media and the public will be allowed to attend the depositions of Bill Gates and other top executives in Microsoft's antitrust trial.

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The news media and the public will be allowed to attend the depositions of Microsoft chief executive Bill Gates and other top executives, a federal judge ruled today.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, who is presiding over a broad antitrust case being brought against Microsoft by the Justice Department and 20 states, issued a "right of access" order that will allow the press and the public to be present at the pretrial questioning of Microsoft executives by government lawyers.

"[The media] and all other members of the public shall be admitted to all depositions to be taken henceforth in this action, including the deposition of William Gates III, to the extent space is reasonably available to accommodate them consistent with public safety and order," Jackson wrote.

Motions for access to the depositions were filed by the New York Times, the Seattle Times, Reuters America, Bloomberg, ZDNet, and ZDTV.

Microsoft has made it clear that it is concerned about the confidentiality of trade secrets and other company information.

"Microsoft is reviewing the judge's order, and is considering how to proceed at this point," company spokesman Tom Pilla said. "[The order] seeks to put protections in place for confidential information of all parties in the case. We'll seek a resolution that provides for that."

Pilla did not say whether the software titan will appeal the ruling but added: "Microsoft is concerned about the possible impacts of today's developments on trial preparations."

Jackson stayed his order until both sides can agree on ground rules for the depositions in light of his ruling. Those familiar with the case say it is unlikely that Gates will testify tomorrow, as previously scheduled.

The trial itself is scheduled to begin September 8 but could be delayed. Microsoft yesterday filed a motion for summary judgment, arguing that the facts of the case are so overwhelmingly in the company's favor that the matter should not go to trial at all.