HARRISBURG - It will be nine months before State Rep. John M. Perzel faces a jury, and when he does his lawyer likely will make the same argument he did Wednesday: that the former House speaker did use state resources for political gain, but that it wasn't a crime.
Dauphin County Judge Richard A. Lewis agreed Wednesday to grant a defense motion to delay jury selection from April until August so defense attorneys can sift through 1.8 million paper documents and thousands of computer files that prosecutors are turning over in discovery.
Perzel, from Northeast Philadelphia, and nine others associated with the House Republican caucus, including former State Rep. Brett O. Feese of Lycoming County, have been charged in the corruption case.
At the core of the case are allegations that they spent about $20 million in public money between 2003 and 2007 on contracts with computer companies that created programs to track voter behavior, analyze political demographics, and guide campaigns.
Prosecutors also say the defendants performed political work on state time or directed other legislative employees to do so.
Perzel attorney Brian J. McMonagle acknowledged that Perzel had used state equipment for political gain, but said it wasn't a crime because Perzel also had used it for legislative purposes, such as sending constituents information about state programs.
"It's helping people across the state of Pennsylvania, and - you're darn right - it's helping people like John Perzel run for office," McMonagle argued during a hearing on pretrial motions. "The question is: Where do you draw the line?"
Prosecutors say the law is clear: It is a crime to use public resources to run political campaigns.
"The problem is the sheer amount of public money spent on campaign efforts," Deputy Attorney General Michael Sprow said.
Outside the courtroom, Perzel called the case against him "nonsense" and said he had done nothing wrong.
"I did things the right way. I spent $20 million to do things right," he said. "I had plenty of money. I didn't need to cheat."
At one time, Perzel was the House GOP's most powerful member and was known as its best campaign fund-raiser. His fall from power began with his unapologetic support of the controversial pay boost that lawmakers gave themselves in 2005 and later rescinded. He lost his reelection bid last month.
Prosecutors have portrayed Perzel as the mastermind behind a scheme to divert public resources to campaigns. He faces 82 charges, the most of any defendant in the case.
Lewis is expected to rule in two or three weeks on the dozens of motions, most of them seeking to have charges dismissed.
The case is an offshoot of the corruption investigation dubbed Bonusgate because it stemmed from a scheme to award taxpayer-funded bonuses to House Democratic staffers who worked on campaigns.
In that case, former Democratic Whip Mike Veon of Beaver County was found guilty with two aides.