A district court judge in Iowa has ordered Microsoft Corp chairman Bill Gates and CEO Steve Ballmer to testify in person at a trial that starts in the US state later this month.
The two executives already were on the witness list to appear at the trial, but the ruling means they'll likely travel to Iowa earlier in the trial to face direct questioning by the plaintiffs' attorney. Without the ruling, they may have appeared later to answer cross-examination questions by the plaintiffs.
The earliest they likely will be called is January or February.
The company is facing a class-action antitrust lawsuit, which seeks up to US$450 million for people in the US state of Iowa who have purchased the software maker's products since 1994. The case claims that anticompetitive practices by Microsoft caused consumers to pay more for its products that they would have otherwise.
Microsoft says its products have been successful because of their low cost and high quality.
"We believe that Iowa consumers and businesses received incredible value from our products at affordable prices," Microsoft attorney Rich Wallis said.
A jury trial is scheduled to begin in Des Moines on Nov. 13.
Polk County District Judge Scott Rosenberg said the request by plaintiffs' attorney Roxanne Conlin to have Gates and Ballmer appear in person was not unreasonable.
"The requested witnesses are in important decision-making positions for the defendant," he wrote in an opinion dated Thursday. "The jury should be allowed to view them live during both parties' case presentation to observe their demeanor and help the jury to assess their credibility. This method of questioning by both parties will make the witnesses' interrogation and presentation effective for the ascertainment of the truth."
Conlin said that the judge's ruling means they must appear when she calls for them and must answer questions she poses on topics of her choosing.
"The point was to have them come when I wanted them to testify," she said. "We really do see this as a significant win for us."
The Iowa case is one of a few remaining state antitrust cases against the Redmond, Washington-based software manufacturer.
Conlin said the trial is anticipated to last six months, but Wallis doubted it would take that long.