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Stay refused on access to Gates

A federal judge denies Microsoft's request for a stay to appeal the ruling on public access to Bill Gates's questioning by the government.

A federal judge today denied Microsoft's request for a stay to have extra time to appeal yesterday's ruling allowing the public to be present when chief executive Bill Gates and other executives are questioned by the government as part of a landmark antitrust case.

U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson's order, handed down yesterday, allows access to the press and the public to the pretrial depositions of Gates and 16 other top executives. The company filed a motion for a stay this morning, but Jackson today refused the request.

Several news organizations claim an obscure 1913 law allows them access to any pretrial deposition in conjunction with an antitrust suit. But the company is concerned about the confidentiality of trade secrets and other closely held information.

Microsoft immediately filed an appeal today at the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. It also is asking the appellate court for a stay motion, spokesman Jim Cullinan said.

That same court overturned an injunction in June that would have required Microsoft to offer its Windows 95 system software to computer makers without the Internet Explorer Web browser. Microsoft declared that decision a victory.

The higher court is not expected to rule on the appeal any sooner than Monday. The news media has until Friday to file reasons why the Microsoft appeal should not be granted, and Microsoft has until Monday to respond to those filings, Microsoft spokesman Mark Murray said.

In the meantime, all parties are continuing negotiations about how to allow public access to the depositions should the appeal be denied. No pretrial questioning will take place until Jackson signs off on the agreed-upon ground rules.

"Microsoft is working with all parties to resolve these issues as quickly as possible. Our goal is to protect the confidential information of every company in the case and move the case forward as quickly as possible," said Microsoft spokeswoman Caroline Boren. "In our appeal, we point out that the obscure 1913 statute involved in this matter does not refer to the type of depositions involved in this case. Microsoft is asking the appeals court to protect the integrity of this case and allow all parties to preserve their confidential information."

The Justice Department and 20 states are bringing a broad antitrust case against the software giant, alleging Microsoft has illegally maintained its dominance among operating systems and has used that monopoly to break into other businesses, including the Internet browser market.

The trial is slated to begin September 8 but could be delayed.