Issue 209, July 11, 2000  

Wanted: Twelve Peers For Bill Gates' Jury

By Stephen M. Lawton

     Court battles like the one Microsoft is waging are spectacular — they give industry pundits like me the opportunity to spout off with techno-legal babble without ever having to sit through the laborious court proceedings or even read the court's transcripts. It's great — we can be experts without any of the distraction of real research.
      But what if we used some of today's technology to make the court case a little more accessible. In fact, there are several steps that could have been taken to make the Microsoft case the social event of the season, not unlike the O.J. case.
      This was driven home to me recently as I prepared to conduct my own socially responsible act: jury duty. Why, for example, did Bill Gates not ask for a jury trial? Of course, this was not a criminal trial — not exactly. But that's not the point. Imagine what luminaries a jury of his peers would include. Naturally, no jury of rich tech moguls would be complete without Oracle's Larry Ellison. And who could possibly leave off billionaire Warren Buffet? Certainly, no one could be more of a peer to Gates than Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen, but would that set up a conflict of interest?
      That sets up an interesting legal argument: Does Gates get a jury of his peers (incredibly rich entrepreneurs from technology and related businesses) or is he forced to have a jury of regular people — those of us who work for a living? You certainly couldn't call the average working Joe or Jane a peer of the richest man in the world, now could you?
      After those first three seats are filled, who would be next? Do we need to start tapping the European and Asian markets to find enough megabillionaires? Should we just pluck a few Silicon Valley-types, even if they don't have $70 billion or so? Where do we start?
      Let's assume for a moment that we were able to fill out the jury box, though I doubt we could dig up that many megabillionaires for such a long trial. Would they all want to go to Washington to sit in the box? Surely not.
      Then the question becomes how to actually conduct the trial. The answer: Videoconferencing for the jury box. We already have the technology to record the court's proceedings and distribute them worldwide. Simply set up little cameras on each of the dozen jurors' PCs (plus the alternate billionaires) and feed them into a system at the courthouse. The jurors' faces could be displayed on a dozen monitors strategically situated in the jury box That way, Ellison could be virtually anywhere when rendering his judgment on archenemy Gates.
      What if we were to extend the jury process to include more than just a jury of Gates' peers? The court, to ensure full cooperation of the world at large (also known as: Microsoft's customer base) could allow users to press "G" for guilty and "N" for not guilty. Is this fair? Obviously not, but that doesn't matter. Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson could have abundant video testimonials to determine if indeed that damage existed.
      Ain't technology grand?

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