A US judge approved a partial settlement Thursday in a lawsuit over e-book price-fixing, allowing three publishers to opt out of a deal with Apple that became the target of a government probe. Judge Denise Cote signed an order approving the settlement between the Justice Department and the publishers, Hachette Book Group, HarperCollins and Simon & Schuster. Those three firms reached a settlement in April when the US government launched its case against Apple and other publishing houses \"for conspiring to end e-book retailers\' freedom to compete on price.\" The ruling came as a surprise because Apple and others had been pressing for hearings on the impact of the deal, but the judge said this was not needed. Cote said in a 45-page opinion that the settlement was \"appropriate\" and \"secures a remedy that is closely related to the violations alleged in the complaint.\" She added that \"it is not necessary to hold an evidentiary hearing before approving the decree... A hearing would serve only to delay the proceedings unnecessarily.\" The lawsuit will proceed against Apple along with publishers Macmillan and Penguin Group for what US authorities called a conspiracy to raise prices and limit competition for e-books. US officials said the scheme was aimed at ending a discounting effort by Amazon, which sold most e-books at $9.99 until the new pricing plan was forced on the retail giant. The move almost instantly raised the prices consumers paid for e-books, authorities said.