A federal judge ruled late Monday that Sacramento Kings star Chris Webber can spend the next few months worrying about Lakers and Mavericks instead of attorneys and witness stands.
Judge Nancy G. Edmunds set July 8 as the starting date for Webber's trial on perjury charges; Webber's attorney had asked for the late date to prevent Webber from having to leave the Kings while in a potential playoff chase.
"The NBA season ends by the end of June," attorney Steve Fishman said. "Why not wait until everything is over with?"
Edmunds said she saw "no reason not to accommodate Mr. Webber," noting that she often accommodates schedule requests for "all sorts of reasons." The ruling did not sit well with prosecutor Richard Convertino, however. Convertino, an assistant U.S. Attorney who is also a member of the government's Organized Crime Task Force, made it clear he believed Webber was getting special treatment.
"Mr. Webber, the people of Sacramento and his teammates are immaterial," Convertino said in court. "To put this off is obscene."
Webber is being accused of lying to a grand jury that investigated Edward L. Martin, a former Detroit-area booster who prosecutors believe gave Webber and his family as much as $280,000 in cash and gifts while Webber was in high school and college at the University of Michigan. Webber gave his grand jury testimony two years ago; in the time since, Martin, who was also running a numbers operation out of a Detroit-area Ford Motor Co. plant, has entered a plea agreement under which he could face three years in prison.
Martin is now cooperating with prosecutors in the case against Webber. Webber's father, Mayce Webber Jr., and his aunt, Charlene Johnson, have also been charged, although all three defendants have stated their innocence.
"I did not lie to the grand jury," Webber said the day he was indicted. "I tried to help the prosecution in any way I could in the case of Ed Martin. I will fight this case to the end, and I feel that I will be vindicated."
To that end, Fishman has filed a motion to have the case dismissed entirely. The prosecution has until Dec. 17 to respond to that request, and arguments will be heard in early February. In a telephone interview yesterday, Fishman said he felt confident he has grounds for dismissal but that he was puzzled by Convertino's vehement opposition to a July trial date.
"In almost 30 years as a lawyer, I have never seen a government prosecutor get so exercised about what is essentially a housekeeping matter," Fishman said. "As the judge indicated, there was no logical reason to set the trial earlier than July, the government whining and complaining notwithstanding."
Convertino declined yesterday to comment on the matter further; since Webber was indicted on Sept. 9, he has steadfastly declined to answer speculation the government wanted the trial to commence during the season in order to put more pressure on Webber.