US Judge in Microsoft Antitrust Case Dies at 76


Thomas Penfield Jackson, who as a federal judge in Washington presided over a Microsoft antitrust case and the drug possession trial of former Mayor Marion Barry, has died.

Jackson died at his home in Compton, Md., his wife Patricia told The Associated Press on Sunday. He was 76 and had cancer.

Jackson, who retired from the bench in 2004, handled a variety of cases in more than two decades as judge. He sent Barry to prison for possession of illegal substances, presided over the perjury trial of former White House aide Michael Deaver and ordered then-Sen. Bob Packwood to turn over his diaries to a committee investigating a scandal.

In 2000, ruling in a historic antitrust lawsuit brought by the government against Microsoft, Jackson ordered the software giant to be split in two after concluding the company had stifled competition and used illegal methods to protect its monopoly in computer operating systems. The decision rocked the software industry, and in interviews with the news media that were published after the ruling, Jackson was quoted as comparing Microsoft founder Bill Gates to Napoleon and likening the company to a drug-dealing street gang.

“I think he has a Napoleonic concept of himself and his company, an arrogance that derives from power and unalloyed success, with no leavening hard experience, no reverses,” Jackson said in one interview.

The following year, an appeals court unanimously reversed the breakup order — though it did agree that Microsoft had acted as an illegal software monopoly — saying Jackson had engaged in “serious judicial misconduct” with his derogatory out-of-court comments about the company. The court appointed a different judge to determine a new punishment. The company later negotiated a settlement.

Another high-profile case involved a North Carolina tobacco farmer, who in 2003 drove his tractor into a pond on the National Mall and told police he was carrying “organophosphate bombs.” Jackson initially sentenced Dwight Watson to six years in prison, saying the city had regarded him as a “one-man weapon of mass destruction,” but later sharply reduced the punishment following a U.S. Supreme Court ruling.

Jackson also presided over the 1990 drug trial of Marion Barry, the District of Columbia mayor caught using illegal substances in a hotel room in an FBI sting. Barry unsuccessfully appealed his six-month sentence, arguing Jackson showed bias when he told a Harvard University audience after the trial that he was convinced Barry was guilty of perjury. The appeals court rejected those arguments.