A Bronx judge today assigned himself and three other judges to expedite criminal charges against Labor Secretary Raymond J. Donovan in hope of bringing the case to trial by mid-March.
Burton Roberts, chief administrative judge of Bronx Supreme Court, said he took the unusual step of assigning additional judges because "this is a case that has had some notoriety" and "should be handled expeditiously," as Donovan and the other defendants have asked.
Donovan, former executive vice president of Schiavone Construction Co. of Secaucus, N.J., was indicted with nine other defendants last month on charges of fraud and grand larceny in connection with a $184 million New York City subway project started by the company in 1978.
Donovan has taken a leave of absence from his Reagan administration job to fight the charges, and his attorney, William O. Bittman, said his client is anxious to have the matter resolved.
"I think the executive department of the federal government is entitled to have a secretary of labor," the attorney told the court.
The judge advised Bittman, in turn, not to identify himself as he had just done, as the attorney "for Secretary of Labor Raymond Donovan."
"Before the court, he's not secretary of labor, he's Raymond Donovan," Roberts said. He said Donovan was not being prosecuted because he was a member of President Reagan's Cabinet.
Bittman said he disagreed. Roberts repeated himself.
"Insofar as the court is concerned, he's not Secretary of Labor Raymond Donovan," the judge said. "He's Raymond Donovan."
Attorneys for Donovan's chief partner, Ronald Schiavone, chairman of the board of Schiavone Construction, and the company, which has also been indicted, added their own note of urgency by pointing to steps being taken in New Jersey that could bar the company from bidding on state road projects there.
The New Jersey State Department of Transportation has proposed suspending Schiavone from bidding on public projects because of questions raised by the indictment about the firm's "moral integrity." Schiavone lawyers are fighting the move, saying it would have a "serious economic impact" on the company.
Donovan, who is still a principal owner of the firm, has been accused along with Ronald Schiavone and six other Schiavone executives of scheming to defraud the New York City Transit Authority of as much as $12 million by falsely reporting the payments as having gone to a legitimate minority business enterprise.
Bronx prosecutors have charged that the so-called minority company, Jopel Contracting and Trucking, was a phony minority business enterprise, set up by reputed Mafia soldier William Masselli with the help of a black state senator from the Bronx, Joseph Galiber.
Masselli, who is serving a seven-year term in federal prison on other charges, and Galiber were also named in the indictment. In papers filed since the charges were lodged, prosecutors have charged that $7.4 million of the $12 million ostensibly paid to Jopel was for improper rental charges and that nearly $4 million of the rental charges were completely bogus.
Anticipating complicated pretrial maneuvering, Roberts announced a schedule of court dates starting next week that he said he hoped would result in the resolution of all motions by the end of February.
If the case goes to trial, he said, he would like to begin "before the voice of the turtle is heard in the Bronx, sometime before springtime." He said he doubted that the trial could be completed before next June.