Bribery Trial of Rep. William Jefferson Pushed Back 6 Weeks to February

A federal judge on Friday delayed by six weeks a scheduled trial for a Louisiana congressman accused of taking bribes after his lawyer said he needed more time to prepare.

Robert Trout, attorney for Democrat William J. Jefferson, had requested a four-month delay from the trial date, which had been scheduled to begin Jan. 16.

"We do not believe we can be adequately prepared ... given the volume of material," Trout said during a brief hearing Friday at U.S. District Court.

But U.S. District Judge T.S. Ellis III gave Trout less than half the additional time he sought, setting the trial for Feb. 25.

Prosecutors had opposed any delay, arguing that the congressman and his lawyers have known for more than two years that he is under investigation, even though criminal charges were not brought until June.

It is possible that the trial will still be delayed beyond February. Unlike most criminal cases, Jefferson's lawyers may have an opportunity to appeal some pretrial rulings before the trial begins because they deal with constitutional questions like separation of powers and whether the Justice Department acted properly in its investigation of Jefferson.

Additional pretrial hearings are scheduled for next week.

Jefferson faces a possible maximum sentence of 235 years on charges that include bribery, racketeering, money laundering and obstruction of justice.