Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Thomas Penfield Jackson, Outspoken Judge, Dies at 76

The cause was complications of transitional cell cancer, according to his wife, Patricia King Jackson.

The career of Judge Jackson, who served in the District of Columbia, was studded with big moments. In 1988, he fined a former Reagan aide, Michael K. Deaver, $100,000 for lying under oath about his lobbying activities. In 1990 he conducted the trial that convicted former Mayor Marion S. Barry Jr. of Washington of cocaine possession. In 1994, he ordered Senator Bob Packwood of Oregon to give the Senate Ethics Committee his personal diary, which contained details of his sexually harassing his staff and others, resulting in his resignation.

But the burly, silver-haired judge — known for chewing on ice cubes, gruff candor and a rich baritone — attracted the most attention presiding over the trial of the Microsoft Corporation on charges of antitrust violations in 1998-99 — one of history’s largest antitrust cases.

Mindful that the government’s antitrust offensive against I.B.M. lasted 13 years and its action against AT& T involved a million documents, he limited each side to 12 witnesses and forced lawyers to submit testimony in writing. The main court proceedings took 76 trial days.

A technological novice who wrote his opinions in longhand and used his computer mainly to e-mail jokes, Judge Jackson refuted Microsoft’s assertion that it was impossible to remove the company’s Internet Explorer Web browser from its operating system by doing it himself. Because there was no jury, he said he felt free to show his emotions and occasionally rolled his eyes and laughed at testimony.

When a Microsoft lawyer complained that too many excerpts from Bill Gates’s videotaped deposition — liberally punctuated with the phrase “I don’t remember” — were shown in the courtroom, Judge Jackson said, “I think the problem is with your witness, not the way his testimony is being presented.”

But, in the end, the judge’s outspokenness came back to bite him.

He granted interviews with journalists during the trial and, after it ended, in the period before he delivered his verdict. He said he wanted the journalists to be able to explain his thinking after he had ruled, and all followed his stipulation that nothing be printed beforehand.

The comments were worth waiting for. He told reporters that Bill Gates had “a Napoleonic concept of himself,” and compared Microsoft’s declaration of innocence to the protestations of gangland killers. Explaining how he got the company’s attention during the trial, he compared himself to a mule trainer who handled the animal by taking a two-by-four and “whopping him upside the head.”

On June 7, 2000, Judge Jackson ordered that Microsoft be split into two companies, one owning the Windows operating system and the other owning Microsoft’s many software products.

A year later, the Court of Appeals in Washington said Judge Jackson’s pithy comments gave the impression of bias, removed him from the case and vacated his order to divide Microsoft. It let stand much of his April 2000 ruling that Microsoft was a monopoly because he had written that before most of the interviews.

The appeals court sent the case to another federal district judge, Colleen Kollar-Kotelly, to sort things out. Then the new presidential administration of George W. Bush decided not to seek Microsoft’s breakup and negotiated a settlement. Judge Kollar-Kotelly approved the deal in November 2002.

Thomas Penfield Jackson was born in Washington on Jan. 10, 1937, and grew up in nearby Kensington, Md. His father, Thomas Searing Jackson, was a prominent Washington lawyer.

He attended the exclusive St. Albans School in Washington on a choir scholarship. When his voice changed, he lost the scholarship and transferred to Bethesda-Chevy Chase High School, where he played football and edited the school paper.

He graduated from Dartmouth with a degree in government; spent three years in the Navy, mostly on a destroyer in the Mediterranean; and graduated from Harvard Law School. He joined his father’s law firm, where he litigated malpractice cases. The Baltimore Sun in 1999 quoted him as saying his favorite thing about litigation was “destroying a witness.”

Ravi Somaiya contributed reporting.

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