Judge Jackson, a native Washingtonian, ruled on many high-profile cases during his 22 years on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia and became known for his blunt assessments of the lawyers, jurors and defendants who came before him.
The Microsoft trial was called the most important antitrust case before a U.S. court since the Standard Oil breakup of 1911. The landmark case stretched 18 months, from 1998 to 2000, when Judge Jackson ultimately issued his ruling that Microsoft used monopolistic power to violate three antitrust provisions.
Beefy and six feet tall, Judge Jackson spoke in a deep, booming baritone and was a commanding courtroom presence. Observers noted that the judge quickly grasped the complex technical issues of the Microsoft case, but as the trial dragged on, his impatience became palpable.
Reporters noted that Judge Jackson rolled his eyes or scowled at statements by Microsoft’s attorneys and laughed during videotaped testimony by company co-founder Bill Gates. At other times during the proceedings, he appeared to yawn or nod off.
Judge Jackson issued his decision in April 2000, decreeing that Microsoft should be separated into two companies. Soon afterward, he stirred even greater controversy with a series of interviews in which he compared the computer software giant to a street gang and described Gates as “Napoleonic.”
It was rare — even unheard of — for a sitting judge to discuss his cases in such an unvarnished manner.
In reviewing Judge Jackson’s decision in 2001, a federal appeals court overturned his order that Microsoft should be broken up, but it sustained his primary ruling that the company acted as a monopoly.
But the appeals court wasn’t done. After addressing the legal issues, the judges issued a startling and sharply worded rebuke of Judge Jackson’s behavior in the case, charging him with “egregious” violations of judicial ethical standards.
The judges said he conveyed “the impression of a judge posturing for posterity, trying to please the reporters with colorful analogies and observations.”
Ultimately, they said, Judge Jackson ran the risk of undermining the authority of the courts: “Public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary is seriously jeopardized when judges secretly share their thoughts about the merits of pending cases with the press.”
Earlier, Judge Jackson showed exasperation with the jury in the 1990 trial of Barry, who had been captured on camera smoking crack cocaine. After weeks of testimony and days of deliberations, the jury reached a decision on only two of the 14 charges against the mayor — and none of the felony counts.
Barry was convicted of one misdemeanor drug charge and acquitted of another. After dismissing the jury, Judge Jackson sentenced Barry to six months in prison and a $5,000 fine.