The William Jefferson Chronicles

Former Rep. William Jefferson's corruption trial set for May 26
by Bruce Alpert, The Times-Picayune
Thursday January 15, 2009, 1:25 PM

ALEXANDRIA, Va. - Former Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, will face trial May 26 on federal corruption charges that he sought bribes in exchange for his help with business deals in Africa.

U.S. District Court Judge T.S. Ellis III set the date today in a status session with prosecutors and Jefferson's lawyers. The 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Richmond, Va., which had rejected Jefferson's request to drop most of the 16 charges filed against him, gave Ellis the green light last week to schedule a trial.

Jefferson, who faces charges of bribery, racketeering and conspiracy, has maintained his innocence. He lost his bid last month for a 10th term in Congress to Republican Anh "Joseph" Cao.

Jefferson's lawyers had asked Ellis to set a trial date that would give the Supreme Court time to decide whether to hear Jefferson's appeal. Ellis said he set the date based on his crowded trial docket, not on the defense team's request.

Jefferson's attorneys said that they have until March 12 to ask the Supreme Court to hear the case, but that they plan to do so by Feb. 13. The government would have until March 16 to file its reply, and Jefferson's attorneys estimate that the court likely would decide whether to take the case by the end of April.

In a brief filed Wednesday, prosecutor Mark Lytle called on the judge to set a trial date without regard to a possible Supreme Court appeal. He said that it's already been one and a-half years since Jefferson was indicted, that the government's case might be harmed by "further passage of time," and that the public has an interest in the "prompt resolution" of the criminal case.

In his appeal to the 4th Circuit, Jefferson lawyers had asked that 14 of the 16 charges filed against him in a June 2007 indictment be dropped because the grand jury that indicted him heard testimony about his congressional work in violation of the Constitution's Speech or Debate clause. The clause is designed to protect Congress from undue interference from the executive branch.

The appeals court rejected that argument but Jefferson's attorneys hope for better results with the Supreme Court.

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