Thomas Penfield Jackson, judge in DOJ-Microsoft case, dies at 76

Judge Jackson ruled in 2000 that the tech titan was a monopoly that should be split in two before his removal from the case for "seriously tainting" proceedings.

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Thomas Penfield Jackson Beverly Rezneck/U.S. Disrict courts

Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson, the former U.S. District court judge who ruled in 2000 that Microsoft was a monopoly that should be broken up before his decision was overruled, died Saturday at age 76.

Jackson died at his home in Compton, Md., from complications of transitional cell cancer, his wife, Patricia King Jackson, told The New York Times.

Unusually vocal in his public and private criticisms of Microsoft, Jackson ruled in June 2000 that the tech titan should be split into two companies: one that would sell office software and a browser, and another that would be responsible for everything else. Jackson likened Microsoft executives to gangland killers and to stubborn mules who should be walloped with a 2-by-4.

Mindful that the government's antitrust case against IBM took 13 years, Jackson limited each side to 12 witnesses and two surprise rebuttal witnesses. Testimony in the case concluded after 76 days.

However, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the D.C. Circuit was most concerned by Jackson's habit of inviting reporters into his chambers for private conversations that involved criticizing the world's most famous antitrust defendant while court proceedings were under way. "The system would be a sham if all judges went around doing this," Chief Judge Harry Edwards warned at the time.

As a result, Jackson was removed from the case. The D.C. Circuit Court ruled unanimously that Jackson "seriously tainted the proceedings," and a new judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, was appointed. The appeals court also overruled Jackson's decision to divide Microsoft, which led to the case being settled in November 2001.

A graduate of Harvard Law School, Jackson saw a fair share of controversy after his first appointment to the bench in 1982 by President Ronald Reagan. He fined former Reagan aide Michael Deaver $100,000 in 1988 for lying under oath about lobbying activities.

In 1990, he sentenced District of Columbia Mayor Marion Barry to a maximum sentence of six months for a misdemeanor drug conviction. After Jackson commented that he had "never seen a stronger government" criminal case, Barry's attorneys filed motions to have Jackson removed from the case, which was on appeal.

In 2000, he found Iran liable for $300 million in punitive damage over the kidnapping of reporter Terry Anderson, who was held captive from 1985 to 1991.

In later years, he still defended his decision to break up the software behemoth as the right thing to do.

"Windows is an operating system monopoly, and the company's business strategy was to leverage Windows to achieve a comparable dominion of all software markets," Jackson said in a speech in 2005. "Nothing has changed, to my observation, in the five years that have elapsed since my decision...Microsoft has won the browser war in the United States."