US government's Apple antitrust suit gets new judge after recusal

FILE PHOTO: An Apple logo is pictured in an Apple store in Paris, France, March 6, 2024. REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo

(Reuters) - The U.S. Justice Department's blockbuster case accusing Apple of unlawfully monopolizing the smartphone market was reassigned to U.S. District Judge Julien Neals in New Jersey on Wednesday after another judge said he could not hear it due to a potential conflict of interest.

U.S. District Judge Michael Farbiarz, who had been assigned to handle it, in a brief order said he was required to recuse from the case based on a judicial ethics rule that can restrict judges from hearing disputes in which they or a family member have some close connection or financial tie.

The order said his recusal was mandatory, but Farbiarz did not state the precise reason for his disqualification. Farbiarz did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Farbiarz and Neals were both appointed to the bench by Democratic U.S. President Joe Biden. Neals has served since 2021 and formerly worked as a New Jersey county government lawyer. Farbiarz has served since last year, leaving his position as general counsel to the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey.

Farbiarz's recusal order appeared to come without any request from Apple or the Justice Department. The government declined to comment on Wednesday. Apple did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The Justice Department, along with 15 U.S. states, sued Apple in March, accusing the Cupertino, California-based tech giant of monopolizing the smartphone market through restrictions on app developers that curb choice and innovation, which it said forces consumers to pay higher prices.

Apple has denied the allegations and said the lawsuit "threatens who we are and the principles that set Apple products apart in fiercely competitive markets."

The lawsuit spurred related private civil lawsuits from consumers and businesses. Many of those cases were filed in New Jersey and were also reassigned to Neals.

(Reporting by Mike Scarcella; Editing by Will Dunham)

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