Apple Asks Judge Cote to Remove Court-Appointed Antitrust Monitor

Michael BromwichMichael Bromwich
Reuters/Yuri Gripas

Following a U.S. antitrust case last year that found that Apple had conspired with book publishers to fix the price of eBooks, the company was assigned a court-appointed attorney to monitor compliance with the court’s ruling. In early December, Apple asked Federal Judge Denise Cote to rein in the compliance monitor, Michael Bromwich, due to excessive fees and an “overzealous” interference with the company’s executives. Mr. Bromwich responded to Apple’s complaints by issuing his own against the Cupertino company, accusing it of denying his requests for executive interviews and otherwise obstructing his efforts.

On Tuesday Apple raised the stakes, asking Judge Cote to remove Mr. Bromwich entirely, according to Reuters. Apple’s lawyers argue that Mr. Bromwich should be disqualified from serving as the external compliance monitor as he has reportedly demonstrated a personal bias against the company, an argument supported by statements Mr. Bromwich reportedly made to Apple CEO Tim Cook. Excerpts from Apple’s letter to Judge Cote:

[Mr. Bromwich’s] wholly inappropriate declaration in an adversarial proceeding is compounded by…his financial demands, and his adversarial, inquisitorial, and prosecutorial communications and activities toward Apple since his appointment…

Viewing himself as unconstrained by the federal rules governing discovery and other matters, and acting like an independent prosecutor not a judge, he has repeatedly demanded interviews with Apple’s senior executives and board members who have no role in the day-to-day operation of the business unit at issue…

Other than to emphasize his need to “generate profits,” [Mr. Bromwich] has refused to justify his fee structure as “reasonable” or “customary” by past billing practices in this area.

Apple, however, may not be characterizing the situation in a completely objective manner. Apple has never admitted guilt in the matter, and multiple reports and statements from the company show that executives feel insulted at the mere suggestion that the company’s aggressive eBook strategy may have crossed a legal line.

Now both sides are at odds, and Apple’s open request to remove Mr. Bromwich will likely only fuel the flames. Court-appointed monitors are nothing new, and are often used to ensure compliance with legal rulings of all types. But for a company built on secrecy and autonomy like Apple, it’s likely that any external interference will ruffle feathers in Cupertino, even if Mr. Bromwich is eventually replaced.

While the saga unfolds, Apple is appealing the court’s ruling, so expect to see this issue remain in the spotlight for at least the next few years.