A state district judge told Rep. Tom DeLay's lawyers that he won't schedule hearings in DeLay's money laundering and conspiracy case until after Christmas, a blow to the lawmaker's hopes to speedily clear his name and reclaim his position as House majority leader.

In a letter to DeLay's attorneys Wednesday, Senior Judge Pat Priest said he'll be working on other cases and won't be available until Dec. 27 to take up pending motions in DeLay's case stemming from a 2002 campaign finance scheme.

DeLay attorney Dick DeGuerin had also asked Priest to tentatively schedule a trial for the first or second week of January. Priest wrote that a trial date depends on whether the state appeals his decision earlier this week to dismiss another conspiracy charge and would not commit to a January trial. An appeal would delay the case.

"I am fine with setting up the pending pretrial motions for the week between Christmas and New Year's, and with planning a trial setting early next year, but I cannot require the state not to appeal my ruling," Priest wrote.

The charges against DeLay could still be thrown out if Priest agrees with the defense's claims of prosecutorial misconduct by the Travis County district attorney. Those arguments will be heard at the next court hearing.

DeLay, 58, along with GOP fundraisers John Colyandro and Jim Ellis, are accused of illegally funneling $190,000 in corporate donations to 2002 legislative candidates in Texas. Under Texas law, corporate money cannot be directly used for political campaigns, only for administrative purposes.

DeLay, who maintains his innocence, seeks a quick resolution of the charges so that he can regain his post as House majority leader. House Republican rules prevent him from serving in the seat while the indictments are pending.

Priest also indicated DeLay will have to share a trial with Ellis and Colyandro. Defense attorneys wanted the cases separated, and Ellis and Colyandro wanted later trials so their attorneys would have more time to try to persuade an appeals courts to dismiss the charges.