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It’s not every day that one of the world’s richest men takes questions in open court, and Oracle Corp. CEO Larry Ellison didn’t disappoint a packed courtroom Wednesday as he defended a plan to acquire rival software maker PeopleSoft. On the stand, Ellison came off as a shrewd, if defensive, businessman and an effective public speaker. He did not seem as concerned about winning over U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker as he did about reassuring investors and customers, even though Walker will decide whether the proposed takeover violates U.S. antitrust law. Parts of the direct examination by Daniel Wall, the Latham & Watkins partner who is leading Oracle’s defense team, seemed to be an effort to calm the market volatility that has followed Oracle’s bid to gobble up a competitor. Only during cross-examination did Ellison’s famed ego seemed to come through. Wall led Ellison through a series of softball questions designed to comfort customers worried about the merger. “The intention is to build a successor product that continues both products and makes it easy to migrate from PeopleSoft [software] to the new product,” Ellison said. Wall then allowed Ellison to tick off a list of improvements that will be offered to customers. “Surely you can understand that some PeopleSoft customers might be skeptical. Why should they believe you?” Wall asked. “Because it’s in our interest,” Ellison said. Ellison’s testimony came on the 17th day of a trial Walker hopes to conclude by Friday. The DOJ argues that allowing Redwood City-based Oracle to acquire PeopleSoft, a smaller company based in Pleasanton, would curtail competition in the high-end business software market and hurt consumers. Oracle says there are plenty of competitors and that the merger is a natural move in what Wall has called “the great game” of business software competition across the globe. The CEO’s afternoon appearance attracted a large crowd of spectators. People lined up outside Walker’s courtroom an hour before the hearing. Even some children competed with lawyers and journalists for a spot on the packed wooden court benches. One man even tried to bribe his way into line with an order of chili fries. Ellison, who showed up in a double-breasted gray suit and tie instead of his usual mock turtleneck, seemed relaxed for most of the direct questioning. Only during cross-examination, which was conducted by the DOJ’s lead attorney, Claude Scott Jr. of the antitrust division, did Ellison reveal some of the testiness that has put him in the limelight throughout his career. Scott had Ellison read through documents and then characterize the content. Several times the lawyer tried to get Ellison to go along with the government’s interpretations, but Ellison didn’t take the bait. “I’m not trying to be argumentative,” Ellison said after one such exchange. Often, though, the irritability was tempered by humor. Ellison made fun of himself a couple of times for going on and on in his response to questions — at one point even eliciting a loud guffaw out of Judge Walker, who was unusually quiet during Ellison’s testimony. Ellison also found humor in his own efforts to avoid the government’s characterizations of Oracle’s attempts to win new business over the merger controversy. “After you announced [the takeover], didn’t you put together a war room to use this deal to win accounts?” Scott asked. “It’s a very dramatic term,” Ellison said. “We’re not exactly at war. We’re just trying to win deals. It’s a bit of a metaphor.” The case is U.S. v. Oracle, 04-0807.

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