By Nate Raymond
NEW YORK (Reuters) - Apple Inc Chief Executive Tim Cook must sit for a deposition in the U.S. government's lawsuit against the company over alleged price-fixing in the e-book market, a judge ruled on Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Denise Cote in Manhattan granted the Justice Department's request to compel Cook to testify for four hours in the lawsuit, which accuses Apple of conspiring with five publishers to raise e-book prices.
The government had argued that Cook likely had relevant information about Apple's entry into the e-books market. It also said Cook likely had conversations related to e-books with former Apple CEO Steve Jobs, who died in 2011.
Apple had fought the request, saying Cook's testimony would be "cumulative and duplicative" since the government had already deposed 11 other executives at the iPad maker.
Cote, on a teleconference, cited the death of Jobs as a key reason in ordering the deposition.
"Because of that loss, I think the government is entitled to take testimony from high-level executives within Apple about topics relevant to the government case," as well as to counter Apple's defense arguments, she said.
A spokesman for Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Apple is the only remaining defendant in the lawsuit, which was filed in April 2012 in U.S. District Court in New York.
The five publishers - Pearson Plc's Penguin Group, News Corp's HarperCollins Publishers Inc, CBS Corp's Simon & Schuster Inc, Hachette Book Group Inc and MacMillan - have already settled. The last to settle was Macmillan in February.
A trial is set for June. The government is not requesting damages but is seeking a finding that Apple violated antitrust law. It is also seeking an order blocking Apple from engaging in similar conduct.
During the teleconference, Orin Snyder, a lawyer for Apple at the law firm Gibson Dunn & Crutcher, called the government's request to depose Cook a "fishing expedition."
Snyder said the testimony of other executives should be sufficient in the case. Depositions of 11 other Apple executives have already taken place or been scheduled, according to an earlier letter Apple sent the judge.
"This effort to depose Mr. Cook, Apple's CEO, reflects the fact the government cannot meet its burden of proof in this case," Snyder said.
Lawrence Buterman, a Justice Department lawyer, said on the call that Cook had submitted a written declaration in the case in which he said he played no "meaningful role" in the events at issue.
The Justice Department wants to know what Cook "means by his qualifier," Buterman said.
The government believes it is likely, because of Cook's "position and closeness" with Jobs, that they had private conversations about e-books, Buterman said.
"It means Mr. Cook is the only potential source of information," he said.
The case is United States v. Apple Inc et al, U.S. District Court, Southern District of New York, No. 12-02826.
(Reporting by Nate Raymond in New York; Editing by Martha Graybow, Nick Zieminski and John Wallace)