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Thomas Jackson: Judge who tried to split up Microsoft


Thomas Penfield Jackson, who died of cancer on 16 June at the age of 76, was a federal judge in Washington who presided over a Microsoft antitrust case and ordered the software giant to be split up. He also presided over the the drug possession trial of the former Mayor of Washington, Marion Barry.

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

In 2000, ruling in an antitrust lawsuit brought by the US government, Jackson ordered Microsoft to be split in two after ruling that the company had stifled competition and used illegal methods to protect its monopoly in computer operating systems. The decision rocked the software industry, and after the ruling Jackson compared the Microsoft founder Bill Gates to Napoleon and likened 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,"

An appeals court the following year reversed the order, saying Jackson had engaged in "serious judicial misconduct" with his derogatory out-of-court comments. The company later negotiated a settlement.

He also presided over the 1990 drug trial of Marion Barry, the Washington, DC, mayor caught in an FBI sting smoking crack in a hotel room. Jackson's original six-month sentence was thrown out after an appeals court said he had not adequately explained how he applied federal sentencing guidelines. Jackson re-sentenced him to a six-month term, despite challenges from Barry who said he had shown bias by telling a Harvard University audience that he was convinced Barry was guilty of perjury and other crimes but that some jurors would not have voted to convict him on most of the charges under any circumstances.