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Lawyers in Seth Williams' case: We need more time

With thousands of documents to review - not to mention recordings and footage - lawyers for both sides call a May 31 trial date unreasonable.

It may be the only thing federal prosecutors and Seth Williams' defense can agree on: Both sides need more time to prepare for trial.

But the judge overseeing the Philadelphia district attorney's bribery and corruption case has given no indication that he's willing to give it.

While requests for postponement are almost always granted in complex, document-intensive white-collar criminal investigations, U.S. District Judge Paul S. Diamond took the unusual step this week of ordering both sides to justify the need for delay.

Williams could face a jury as early as next month if the judge refuses to grant a routine waiver to extend the trial's starting date beyond the legally mandated deadline of 70 days after an indictment.

Diamond, in a one-page order, offered little explanation for his request, citing only the interests of the public and Williams for a quick resolution.

But responding Friday, prosecutors may have offered some insight into what is on the judge's mind.

"The public has a strong interest in a prompt trial, particularly in a case of this nature, in which the city's elected district attorney faces criminal charges while still in office," Assistant U.S. Attorney Vineet Gauri acknowledged, while pushing for a later trial date. (Diamond's order was issued three days after Williams announced he would not resign from office while fighting the case against him.)

Williams, 50, is accused of repeatedly selling the influence of his office to two wealthy benefactors, who plied him with luxury gifts in exchange for help with their legal woes. In a separate allegation, prosecutors also say the district attorney misspent more than $20,000 set aside for his mother's nursing home care.

He has denied wrongdoing and pleaded not guilty to charges of honest services fraud and other bribery-related counts

But starting his trial next month could prove damaging to both sides, the lawyers told Diamond on Friday.

Prosecutors said that they had not yet even finished going through the mountains of search warrant results, emails and other documents that agents collected during their two-year investigation – material that they are required to hand over to the district attorney's defense before trial.

Williams' attorney, Thomas F. Burke, received his first batch of that discovery material from the government this week on a hard drive packed with data, including 17 grand jury transcripts, 61 agent reports, audio from three conversations recorded by government cooperators and images caught by a camera investigators installed outside of Williams' house.

Burke told the court Friday that he had not yet had a chance to even begin reviewing the information.

"It becomes an impossible task to determine whether or not the defense can be ready by the [May 31] deadline," he wrote. "Given that there are 53 days remaining … that task seems insurmountable."

Other Philadelphia elected officials indicted in recent high-profile corruption cases received several months to prepare for their trials – nearly a year for State Sen. Vincent J. Fumo and U.S. Rep. Chaka Fattah.

Fumo's successor in office, Larry Farnese, had nine months to marshal the defense that led to his acquittal in a federal fraud case this year.

Like all three, Williams has vowed to stay in office and to continue collecting his annual $175,572 salary until the end of his second term in January.

Still, he agreed last week to a temporary suspension of his law license and said he would cede all control of the legal work of his office to one of his top deputies. He announced earlier this year he would not seek a third term.