Justice Dept. Seeks Expedited Appeal In Jefferson Criminal Case

The Justice Dept. is seeking an expedited schedule for considering the appeal filed by Rep. William Jefferson (D-La.) of the 16-count corruption indictment against him.

With the average appeal case taking roughty nine months to resolve, DOJ has asked the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fourth Circuit to consider this case more quickly, arguing the Jefferson's legal team and federal prosecutors have debated the issues thoroughly at the district-court level and therefore provided a lengthy record on the legal disputes between the two sides.

"Delay in this case harms the public's interest in the prompt and final outcome of the government's investigation and prosecution of serious crimes involving a sitting United States Congressman," the Justice Department said in its request, which was filed earlier this week.

Jefferson is expected to oppose the government's motion for expedited consideration. Jefferson's lawyers are schedued to file a response to the DOJ motion by Tuesday.

Jefferson is seeking to overturn a Feb. 6 ruling by District Judge T.S. Ellis III in which Ellis refused to throw out most of the corruption charges he faces on the grounds that federal prosecutors violated the Speech or Debate Clause in bringing the indictment. The Speech or Debate Clause protects lawmakers and aides from legal action over their official duties. Jefferson's lawyers argue that DOJ used information covered by the Speech or Debate Clause in presenting the case to the grand jury that indicted Jefferson.

Ellis, however, side with the Justice Dept., which insists that no privileged information was presented to the grand jury.

Jefferson faces a wide range of corruption allegations, including bribery, fraud, and racketeering, all of which he is denied. His actual trial is delayed while the appeals court takes up his challenge to Ellis' ruling.

The Supreme Court on Monday may also announce whether it will take up DOJ's appeal of a lower-court ruling that found the May 2006 raid on Jefferson's congressional office an unconstitutional violation of his privilege under Speech or Debate. Justice Dept. officials say the ruling is hindering ongoing corruption probes, while Jefferson is arguing that the Supreme Court should not take up the matter.

Both Jefferson and Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.), who faces 35 federal corruption charges, are both seeking to delay the trials while they challenge the indictments against them on Speech or Debate grounds. Attorneys for Renzi, whose trial was scheduled to begin on April 29, notified a federal judge this week that they too would likely bring challenges to the indictment against the Arizona Republican on Speech or Debate grounds.