|Judge refuses to throw out Jefferson charges|
by Bill Walsh, The Times-Picayune
Wednesday February 06, 2008, 4:16 PM
ALEXANDRIA, Va -- A federal judge Wednesday refused to dismiss bribery charges against Rep. William Jefferson, D-New Orleans, rejecting arguments that grand jury testimony had improperly involved "speech and debate" issues protected by the Consitution.
The decision could delay the scheduled Feb. 25 start of the trial if Jefferson chooses to appeal the ruling to the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. A ruling there also could be appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court. Jefferson's attorneys declined to comment on the possibility of an appeal. The defense has 10 days to make that decision.
Jefferson's attorneys argued that his congressional staffers were questioned before the grand jury about his committee assignments, his involvement with the African Growth and Opportunity Act and his expertise on foreign trade, violating consitutional protection lawmakers have in debating and passing legislation. They said the testimony was the basis for the 16-count federal indictment of Jefferson on bribery-related charges.
U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III, however, ruled from the bench that the testimony did not violate the statute.
Defendants normally are only allowed to appeal such rulings after a trial has taken place. But because this ruling touches on key constitutional questions regarding the separation of powers, the defense is permitted to file a pre-trial appeal.