AUSTIN, Texas – Rep. Tom DeLay will have to wait until at least December for a judge's decision on whether conspiracy charges against him will be dropped, putting his position as House majority leader into further jeopardy.
At a court hearing Tuesday, senior Judge Pat Priest said he wanted to read written responses from both sides before making his ruling. He gave attorneys one week to file the responses, and he said he would likely made his decision a week after that.
The judge said he understood DeLay wanted quick trial, but he had to weigh not only the merit of the charges but he had other cases unrelated to DeLay on his docket.
"I doubt very seriously we're going to get to trial before the first of the year," Priest said.
DeLay's attorney, Dick DeGuerin, told the judge "we're ready now" for a ruling.
"It's very, very important to Congressman DeLay because he's been required to step down from his leadership post simply because of the existence of an accusation," he said.
DeLay fights to regain his post as House majority leader before Congress reconvenes in January. Under House rules, he was forced to step down in September when he was indicted on charges related to a 2002 campaign finance scheme that involved his political action committees. If cleared of charges in December, he could regain his position.
DeLay did not speak with reporters before or after Tuesday's court hearing.
DeLay's attorneys have filed more than 20 motions in their attempt to get the case against DeLay dismissed. Among other things, they argued Tuesday that the conspiracy charges used to indict DeLay were based on a law that wasn't even on the books when the alleged conspiracy happened.
"There's no such thing in 2002 as conspiracy to violate the election code," DeGuerin told the judge.
Prosecutor Rick Reed disputed that argument, saying the Legislature was just clarifying the law in 2003 and that state law has long defined conspiracy as an agreement to commit any felony.
Priest was appointed to oversee the case after DeLay's attorneys succeeded in having the first judge removed because of his campaign contributions to Democratic candidates and causes.
DeLay and Republican fundraisers John Colyandro and Jim Ellis are accused funneling $190,000 in restricted corporate money to seven Texas House candidates in violation of state law.
DeLay is accused raising the money through his Texas political action committee, Texans for a Republican Majority, then using Ellis and Colyandro to send the money to an arm of the Republican National Committee. The RNC then gave the same amount of money to Texas legislative candidates. The direct use of corporate money for political purposes is illegal in Texas.
"It was basically a negotiated swap," Reed said in court. "It was done in this manner in order to disguise the fact that this ... had been negotiated."
Ellis' attorney, Mark Stevens, also argued that the state's money laundering statute applies only to cash. The campaign contributions in question were checks, he said.