Office E Mail: It Can Zap You In Court

Casual messages can come back to haunt companies

Bill Gates has discovered what CEOs around the globe are just starting to grasp about E-mail: It can--and will--bite. E-mail messages dashed off years ago by the Microsoft Corp. chairman and his top lieutenants now figure prominently as digital "smoking guns" in the Justice Dept.'s landmark antitrust case against the software giant. Trustbusters say electronic messages, perhaps more than any paper document, could help them prove that Microsoft sought to crush competitors and monopolize access to the Internet. "E-mail discovery has got everybody really scrambling," says Nina Bondarook, a Microsoft spokesperson.

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