J. Lewis' trial now might be delayed

August looks unlikely, Raven's attorney says

Samuel: `We'll be ready'

July 22, 2004|By Jeff Barker | Jeff Barker,SUN STAFF

The drug conspiracy case of Jamal Lewis, which once appeared headed to trial in August, now seems likely to slip into the Ravens' regular season or beyond, said the running back's attorney.

"It certainly seems unlikely it'll be August," lawyer Donald Samuel said yesterday.

Samuel said he expects to make a request - either in writing or informally during a pre-trial conference - to the judge to delay the trial until after the season.

The Ravens' regular season begins Sept. 12 and ends Jan. 2. Players report to training camp next Thursday.

"We might say, `What's the big deal?' " about delaying until the season ends after waiting months already, Samuel said.

Ravens officials said they would adapt to Lewis' schedule as much as possible and have considered approaching the situation in a similar fashion to what the Los Angeles Lakers did with Kobe Bryant. Bryant stayed in the starting lineup during the NBA regular season and playoffs by flying back and forth to Colorado to attend court sessions in his sexual assault case.

"There is a judicial process that we respect," said Kevin Byrne, the team's senior vice president of public relations. "If Jamal has to adjust his football schedule, that's the reality."

Samuel said he couldn't predict how the presiding judge - Atlanta-based Orinda D. Evans, who has been on the federal bench for 25 years - would treat such a request.

"The judge knows he's a football player. But the judge also knows that people have jobs, and they have to go to trial anyways," Samuel said.

Lewis, 24, who rushed for 2,066 yards last season - the second-best total in NFL history - will be ready whenever the case is called, Samuel said.

"We have no idea when the judge will tell us to show up," Samuel said in an e-mail. "We'll be ready; but as of now, she may call us and tell us to be here in three weeks, or she may say that she thinks it is reasonable to wait until February."

Patrick Crosby, a spokesman for the Atlanta-based U.S. Attorney's Office, declined to comment.

In early June, attorneys in the case had forecast a trial by September. But the case is still firmly in the "discovery" phase, in which lawyers for both sides exchange information. The magistrate has not indicated when she will rule on a variety of pre-trial motions, and Evans has not yet scheduled a conference to discuss a trial date with parties in the case.

Lewis, who was raised in Atlanta, was indicted five months ago and charged with helping broker a cocaine deal for a hometown friend. He is also charged with using a cell phone in the commission of a drug crime.

The running back could face a career-halting, mandatory prison term of at least 10 years if he is convicted and the alleged conspiracy is found to involve at least 5 kilograms of cocaine.

Lewis' attorneys say they have not raised the possibility of a plea-bargain agreement with prosecutors. "Nobody's talking about that kind of thing as of now," Samuel said.

Lewis' case presents a limited number of scenarios for a plea bargain to occur.

Drug cases are often settled when a defendant agrees to cooperate, but his lawyers have said Lewis doesn't know anything about any drug dealers that he can talk about.

Meanwhile, federal rules prohibit prosecutors from bargaining down - say to just a few grams - the amount of drugs Lewis could plead guilty to.

After he was indicted, Lewis turned himself in to FBI officials and was released on a $500,000 bond.

At minicamp in June, Lewis told reporters he was innocent and that he hadn't "missed a beat" in preparing for the season. His agent, Mitch Frankel, said yesterday that he was in a meeting and could not comment.

Sun staff writer Jamison Hensley contributed to this article.

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