Antitrust Chief Klein Leaving Justice Dept.

Assistant Attorney General Joel I. Klein, who launched the antitrust case to break up computer software giant Microsoft, is leaving the government at the end of the month.

“The time has come to seek new challenges,” Klein said in a statement today that did not disclose what his next job would be. “I have done what I set out to do here, and our work is on the right track.”

Klein intends to take some time off and then began a search for his next job, Justice Department spokeswoman Gina Talamona said.

Won Round 1 With Microsoft Klein will leave before the courts render a final verdict on the Microsoft case, but he won the first round. U.S. District Judge Thomas Penfield Jackson ruled after a trial that Microsoft illegally used monopoly power to thwart innovation by competitors and ordered it split into two companies.

One would own Microsoft’s computer operating system, Windows, that dominates the personal computer market. The other would own other software applications, like Office and Word.

Microsoft appealed the verdict and the Supreme Court is expected to decide shortly whether to hear the appeal directly, as Klein and Jackson proposed, or to have the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia hear the appeal first, as the company prefers.

“Joel Klein has been a champion for America’s consumers,” Attorney General Janet Reno said. “He has fought tirelessly for marketplace competition, and Americans have enjoyed better products, more choices and lower prices as a result.”

The department announced that Klein’s principal deputy, Doug Melamed, has been selected to replace him as acting assistant attorney general in charge of the antitrust division.

Klein’s tenure also saw a huge increase in criminal prosecutions of international price-fixing cartels and expanded cooperation in international merger reviews with antitrust authorities in Europe, Australia, Canada and other nations.

Microsoft spokesman Jim Cullinan declined comment on Klein’s departure.

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