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Oracle judge won't bar disputed witnesses

Neither Oracle nor Justice Department manage to keep other's witnesses off the stand.

The federal judge hearing the Department of Justice v. Oracle antitrust case rejected on Friday motions from both sides to exclude all or some testimony of several expert witnesses.

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Oracle is attempting a hostile takeover of PeopleSoft, a chief rival in the market for software packages that businesses use to manage payroll, human resources and related functions. The Justice Department contends that if Oracle swallows PeopleSoft, it and German rival SAP will be the only significant companies left in the field, leaving the market without sufficient competition. Oracle is arguing that there are plenty more viable contenders beyond the three top companies.

Oracle had sought to exclude the testimony of three university professors scheduled to take the stand next week on behalf of the Justice Department.

Marco Iansiti, a business professor from Harvard University; Ken Elzinga, a University of Virginia economics professor; and Preston McAfee, a business economics professor with the California Institute of Technology are all expected to address economic issues related to the merger, including the potential impact on market share, competition and pricing.

The Justice Department wanted to bar Dale Kutnick, a Meta Group analyst, from discussing the possible economic impact of an Oracle-PeopleSoft merger during his testimony. Kutnick has published a research note saying that Oracle is vulnerable to competitors and that an acquisition of PeopleSoft would bolster its position against major rivals, including IBM and Microsoft.

U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker's decision reflects a pattern to resist requests for special treatment for witnesses and evidence. Throughout the first week of the trial, Walker expressed disapproval of numerous requests to seal or black out portions of documents submitted as evidence in the trial. He issued Friday's decision via teleconference--federal courts were closed in observation of Ronald Reagan's funeral.

Over the next two weeks, the Justice Department is scheduled to call many big PeopleSoft customers and economists to the witness stand. Oracle then will make its case, with the trial expected to conclude in early July. The nonjury trial is expected to last about four weeks, with the government presenting its case first. Oracle is expected to follow on or around July 2.