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U.S. judge denies Apple's move to hold off e-book antitrust trial

An Apple logo is seen during Black Friday in San Francisco, California November 29, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam
An Apple logo is seen during Black Friday in San Francisco, California November 29, 2013. REUTERS/Stephen Lam

NEW YORK (Reuters) - A U.S. federal judge denied a bid by Apple Inc on Wednesday to hold off a trial in a case brought by state attorneys general accusing the company of conspiring with five major publishers to fix e-book prices.

U.S. District Judge Denise Cote in a brief order said the July 14 trial had already been postponed once and should go forward, paving the way for more than two dozen states to pursue hundreds of millions of dollars in damages.

Following a non-jury trial last year, Cote found that Apple from 2009 to 2010 conspired with the publishers to raise e-book prices and impede competitors such as Amazon.com Inc.

The trial to assign damages was supposed to be held in May but it was pushed back two months to allow adequate time for class notification, Cote's order said.

Apple later on Wednesday asked a federal appeals court to intervene and halt the trial.

"The district court is ... pressing forward with class notice and a trial in both cases in July, despite the irreparable harm to Apple's reputation among its consumers if class notice is disseminated," the company said in its filing at the 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.

Eric Lipman, an assistant attorney general in Texas wrote a letter to Cote on Wednesday opposing Apple's motion to postpone the trial.

"If any stay is issued, the feasibility of a July 14 trial is significantly decreases. The Court should not countenance Apple's latest effort to further delay a jury's determination," the letter said.

After Cote's ruling last year, the states had pursued the liability finding alongside the U.S. Justice Department and obtained an injunction against the iPad maker in September that called for the appointment of a compliance monitor.

Attorneys for the plaintiffs are seeking $840 million in damages.

The publishers previously agreed to pay more than $166 million to settle related antitrust charges.

They included Lagardere SCA's Hachette Book Group Inc, News Corp's HarperCollins Publishers LLC, Penguin Group (USA) Inc, CBS Corp's Simon & Schuster Inc and Verlagsgruppe Georg von Holtzbrinck GmbH's Macmillan.

Apple's attorneys from the firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher did not immediately return a request for comment.

The states' case is being led by attorneys general in Texas and Connecticut. Jaclyn Falkowski, a spokeswoman for Connecticut Attorney General George Jepsen, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The case is In Re: Electronic Books Antitrust Litigation, U.S. District Court for the Southern District of New York, No. 11-md-02293.

(Reporting by Mica Rosenberg and Nate Raymond; Editing by Richard Chang)

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