Summary:

Apple and the federal government met on Thursday for a final hearing before their trial, which is set to begin on June 3, and features several high profile witnesses.

Judge with gavel
photo: Rubberball / Corbis

The Justice Department, state governments and Apple met in a Manhattan courtroom on Thursday before U.S. District Denise Cote to make arrangements for an upcoming trial in which Apple is accused of colluding with big publishers to fix the price of ebooks.

The purpose of the hearing was to set schedules, review witness lists and go over last-minute evidence objections ahead of the trial. Cote proposed that each side should be given 22 hours over a four day period plus a final day for closing arguments; the federal government said it would need at least 30 hours to make its case, and Apple requested the same, meaning the total trial would last 12 days. Cote said she will decide in the near future.

The parties also reviewed the witness list, which includes prominent publishing CEOs like Macmillan’s John Sargent as well as Apple executive Eddy Cue. Today’s hearing also raised the possibility that News Corp executive James Murdoch, who exchanged a series of emails with Apple’s Steve Jobs, could take the stand for cross-examination; the federal government will decide in coming days, on the basis of an evidence issue, whether this will be necessary.

Much of the trial, however, is unlikely to feature dramatic CEO testimony. Instead, the core of the trial is likely to slog through recondite economic arguments and civil evidence issues; part of today’s hearing focused on expert witness opinion about the competitive effects of agency pricing and whether it coincided with Apple’s economic self-interest.

Today’s hearing also focused on an ongoing dispute in which Apple is attempting to force its competitors, especially Amazon, to unseal evidence they have submitted as part of the proceedings.

At the outset of the hearing, in a courtroom that rises 15 stories above lower Manhattan with a view of the Brooklyn Bridge, Cote stressed that the case represented an enormous amount or work, and told the parties to call her “day or night” if they decided to settle.

Update: Reuters reports that Cote indicated that she was “leaning towards” the Justice Department’s view of the case, and cited the following comment by the judge:

“I believe that the government will be able to show at trial direct evidence that Apple knowingly participated in and facilitated a conspiracy to raise prices of e-books, and that the circumstantial evidence in this case, including the terms of the agreements, will confirm that”

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