An attorney for Rep. Tom DeLay (R-Tex.) said Monday that he will request an early December trial date for the former House majority leader, if the case gets that far.

Lawyer Dick DeGuerin said in a letter that "time is of the essence" in the case that has forced DeLay to temporarily step down from his House post.

Judge Pat Priest has set a hearing for next Tuesday to consider requests to drop the charges against DeLay and his co-defendants. Defense attorneys have asked that the charges be dropped for various reasons, including alleged misconduct by a prosecutor.

"Should the indictments survive the hearings of November 22, we will request a trial date in early December," DeGuerin wrote in his letter to Priest.

DeGuerin is also asking that Priest, a visiting judge, move the trial out of liberal-leaning Travis County to DeLay's home county of Fort Bend.

DeLay and two of his associates are charged with criminal conspiracy and money laundering in the case, which stems from fundraising and spending in the 2002 Texas legislative races.

Corporate donations were allegedly routed through DeLay's Texas political action committee to the national Republican Party, which then gave nearly the same amount to seven Texas House candidates. Use of corporate donations for direct campaign expenditures is illegal in Texas.

The Washington Post reported last week that DeLay tried unsuccessfully in late September to head off felony criminal indictments by signaling that DeLay might plead guilty to a misdemeanor, according to four sources familiar with the events.

The lawyers' principal aim was to preserve DeLay's leadership position under House Republican rules that bar lawmakers accused of felonies from holding such posts. DeLay was forced to step down as majority leader Sept. 28, after the first of two grand jury indictments.

The last-minute negotiations between the lawyers and Texas prosecutor Ronnie Earle were arranged after DeLay made what Earle considered a seriously damaging admission about his fundraising activities during an Aug. 17 meeting with the prosecutor in Austin.