The attorney for Charles Corces, a lawyer charged with fixing cases in Hillsborough County courts, accused federal prosecutors Thursday of manipulating Corces' trial date in an effort to influence the election for state attorney.
At a status hearing Thursday, U.S. District Judge Elizabeth Kovachevich suggested an Oct. 26 start for Corces' trial on racketeering and extortion charges.
His attorney, Anthony Gonzalez, pleaded for a one-week postponement, noting that the government had received several delays since indicting Corces last February.
Gonzalez said the U.S. attorney's office had "jockeyed this trial on this docket" in an attempt to get a "scandalous" opening statement into the news a week before Hillsborough voters choose between incumbent Bill James and former Judge Harry Lee Coe III for state attorney.
Gonzalez later said he expects the prosecution's opening statement to paint a picture of broad corruption that might include Coe. Earlier this year, Coe dismissed as "politics" allegations that he had any involvement.
Kovachevich denied the state attorney's race was influencing the scheduling of the trial.
"No one is jockeying my calendar," she said. She explained that her trial schedule depends on several factors, but not the date of local elections.
Kovachevich then ordered both Gonzalez and Assistant U.S. Attorney William Jung to wait until she completed two hours of hearings on other cases before resuming the Corces matter.
In the end, Kovachevich agreed to set opening statements in Corces' trial for Nov. 4, the day after the general election.
Asked later to respond to Gonzalez's allegations, Jung noted that at an earlier status hearing, Gonzalez suggested the U.S. attorney's office would delay Corces' trial until after the election to spare James embarrassment over his former assistant admitting to corruption.
"He just has to get straight which absurd and offensive position he wants to stick with," Jung said. "Both are false."
Corces and former Assistant State Attorney John S. Valenti were arrested in January 1991 and charged with extorting $35,000 from another lawyer to assure a lenient sentence in a state murder case.
Valenti has pleaded guilty and is cooperating with authorities. Last month, a federal grand jury added charges against Corces, alleging that he improperly fixed four other cases.
The latest indictment states that Corces first discussed case-fixing with Valenti in 1984, before James took office.
_ BRUCE VIELMETTI