Washington Redskins wide receiver Ricky Sanders was told yesterday he'll have to stand trial before the end of the football season on charges stemming from a May 1 incident in the parking lot of a Houston topless bar.

Sanders had hoped to get a trial date after the Redskins finished their season, but Judge Donald Shipley of Harris County's 182nd District Court told Sanders and his attorneys he saw no reason to wait that long. Instead, he gave Sanders a night to come up with a date for the trial, which probably will last about three days. Attorney Wendell Odom, who is representing Sanders, said he'll likely ask Shipley for Dec. 10.

That will place the trial the day after the Redskins' 13th game of the season -- the Chicago Bears at RFK Stadium -- and a week before a Dec. 15 game at New England.

However, sources familiar with the case emphasized that may not be the trial date. They said it may yet be delayed until after the season, and that Shipley earlier expressed interest in hearing other cases. Shipley is up for re-election Nov. 6, and in the combustible climate that is Texas politics, sources say Shipley has been careful to avoid the appearance of doing a favor for a famous athlete.

Legal sources in Texas have said similar cases are settled without going to trial about 90 percent of the time, and Odom said the Harris County District Attorney's office had offered several plea-bargain arrangements. All have been rejected by Sanders, who also faces a civil suit in the matter.

"We could plea this case and guarantee a probation," Odom said. "But to be honest, I don't think he did anything. They're making an offer that's reasonable if Ricky felt he'd done anything wrong. They've been very generous in that regard."

Sanders has been indicted for aggravated assault and failure to stop and render aid after he and a parking lot attendant, Sam Jamus, argued over hubcaps missing from Sanders's car. Jamus claims Sanders struck him with the auto and that he suffered serious injuries.

Sanders and his attorneys deny there were serious injuries and say the criminal complaint was sworn out only after attempts to gain a financial settlement were refused. Shipley yesterday also denied three motions to quash the indictment and settled several pretrial motions.