Share story

Thomas Penfield Jackson, a federal judge who ruled in 2000 that Microsoft was a predatory monopoly and must be split in half, only to see an appeals court reverse his order because he had improperly discussed it with journalists, died at his home in Compton, Md., on Saturday. He was 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 Deaver, $100,000 for lying under oath about his lobbying activities. In 1990 he conducted the trial that convicted former Mayor Marion Barry Jr. of Washington, D.C., for cocaine possession.

In 1994, he ordered Sen. 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.

This week, save 90% on digital access.

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 Microsoft for antitrust violations in 1998-99 — one of history’s largest antitrust cases.

A technological novice who wrote his opinions in longhand and used his computer mainly to email 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’ 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.

Judge Jackson 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, D.C., 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.

Besides his wife, Judge Jackson is survived by his daughters Leila Jackson-Kochis and Sarah J. Jackson-Han, three granddaughters and a brother, Jeffrey Jackson.

Custom-curated news highlights, delivered weekday mornings.