The legal showdown between Oracle ( ORCL) and the Department of Justice will begin June 7, but don't expect a quick end to the brawl over the attempted takeover of PeopleSoft ( PSFT). U.S. District Court Judge Vaughn Walker on Wednesday set the trial date during a preliminary hearing in San Francisco, and said each side will have approximately two weeks to present its case. Although the trial likely will end by July, Walker quickly brought up the question of an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, saying he was sure the losing side would like the matter to go to the high court as soon as possible. If it does, the earliest the court could hear the appeal would be the October session, with a delay until the spring of 2005 quite possible. By then, nearly two years will have elapsed since Oracle began its hostile takeover attempt. Oracle has extended and raised its offer several times, most recently boosting its bid to $26 a share, or about $9.4 billion. The most substantive issue decided Wednesday was the question of so-called "discount forms" used internally by Oracle salespeople hoping to close a sale by cutting prices. Although Oracle's lawyers have expressed some reluctance to turn over the highly competitive information to the government, Judge Walker said the forms are "highly relevant" to the case, and it is important that they be produced promptly. The judge also ruled that Oracle's entire legal team will have access to evidence obtained from 33 competitors, buyers and suppliers, despite the government's wish that only Oracle's outside counsel have access to the documents. However, he said the third parties have five days to ask the court to be exempt. Asked by reporters if Microsoft ( MSFT) was one of the companies that had cooperated with the government, Deputy Assistant Attorney General J. Bruce McDonald refused to comment. But he did say that the software giant's role in the market for business applications would be an important issue in the case.
Unlike the bare-knuckle tactics that have marked the fight, Wednesday's hearing was businesslike and polite; at one point the judge even complimented the two sides over how well they had cooperated in putting together a procedural memo for the hearing. The judge will meet with the two parties by phone next week, and in the courtroom on April 16, to iron out more preliminary issues. Amid Wednesday's broad declines, Oracle shares rose 10 cents, or 0.8%, to $12.41, while PeopleSoft slid 72 cents, or 3.6%, to $19.19 and Microsoft lost 35 cents, or almost 1.4%, to $25.37.