A federal judge said Wednesday that she would not immediately dismiss charges against four men accused of distributing steroids to top athletes.

The ruling by Judge Susan Illston (search) came in a case that has cast a cloud of suspicion over records set by Barry Bonds (search) and other athletes in recent years. Her decision was in response to accusations that prosecutors illegally searched a nutritional supplement laboratory and the house and car of the trainer for Bonds.

The judge indicated that she may conduct hearings into the matter in January. The outcome of those hearings could determine whether some or all the charges would be dismissed, as attorneys for the four defendants demanded Wednesday.

The suspects include Victor Conte (search), whose Bay Area Laboratory Co-Operative is at the center of the scandal, and the lab's vice president, James Valente. The other two defendants are Bonds' trainer Greg Anderson and track coach Remi Korchemny.

The defendants face a range of charges, including distributing steroids, possession of human growth hormone, and money laundering. All have pleaded not guilty.

Defense attorneys said searches last year at BALCO (search) and at Anderson's house were illegal because officers did not supply search warrants. Federal agents stated in court records that they seized calendars and other documents detailing the use of steroids by professional baseball players during the search of Anderson's home.

"Included among these files with apparent steroid distribution details was a folder for Barry Bonds," Internal Revenue Service agent Jeff Novitzky wrote in court documents. Bonds has adamantly denied using steroids.

The judge set a preliminary trial date for March.