Microsoft is accused of trying to derail the remedy proceedings in its antitrust case by adding 23 witnesses to its witness list at the eleventh hour, nine US states and the District of Columbia asserted yesterday. They have filed a motion to bar 18 of these witnesses.

There is not enough time to depose the new witnesses before the end of the discovery period on February 22, the states said in a motion to the District Court for the District of Columbia filed Monday.

Microsoft is employing "hide the ball" tactics in "blatant disregard for this court's schedule and the reasonable and appropriate conduct of litigation", the states said. If the court denies the motion to strike the witnesses, the states have asked for an extension of their discovery period.

March hearing A hearing has been scheduled for March 11, when the states will present remedy proposals to Judge Colleen Kollar-Kotelly. Nine other states and the Department of Justice (DOJ) have already agreed to a settlement with Microsoft.

When both parties exchanged preliminary witness lists for the hearing on December 7 last year, Microsoft listed six witnesses, all company employees, according to the states' motion. Microsoft's final list, released late on Friday, has a total of 34 witnesses, including Bill Gates, the company's chairman and chief software architect, and Steve Ballmer, Microsoft's chief executive.

Microsoft said it needs the witnesses to defend itself against the sanctions proposed by the states. The company said: "It is important that the court hear from consumer and industry witnesses on the harms they would suffer under the state proposals."

Microsoft's witness list includes executives from third-party companies, including PC maker Compaq, chip maker Advanced Micro Devices and retailer Best Buy Co.

The states argue that Microsoft has repeatedly tried to stifle proceedings to postpone a remedy that "will restore competition and deprive Microsoft of the fruits of its illegal conduct", and to increase the likelihood that the court will underwrite the settlement that has been reached with the DOJ and nine other states.