updated 2/6/2004 9:04:17 AM ET 2004-02-06T14:04:17

A top lawyer from Microsoft will head a legal committee with influence in the level of oversight American courts have in antitrust settlements, like the one negotiated by the company.

Microsoft associate general counsel Richard J. Wallis takes over later this year as chairman of the American Bar Association's antitrust section, an unusual role for a corporate lawyer.

(MSNBC is a Microsoft-NBC joint venture.)

The panel has already begun organizing opposition to a congressional plan that would require more aggressive oversight by the courts of such antitrust settlements.

The debate over how aggressively federal judges should scrutinize these settlements is pivotal in the next major ruling in Microsoft's long-running antitrust case. That decision could come as early as Friday.

Microsoft's effort in the legal community illustrates how the world's largest software company is moving to protect its interests in venues where it has found itself challenged. It also has increasingly participated in the political process in Washington and in technology standards organizations.

A U.S. appeals court is considering whether the landmark settlement Microsoft negotiated with the Justice Department in late 2001 was tough enough. The ruling could force fundamental changes to Microsoft's profitable Windows software, the engine for hundreds of millions of personal computers worldwide.

Microsoft said Wallis was traveling Thursday and could not be reached for comment.

Copyright 2004 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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