GULFPORT, MS (WLOX) - All five defendants in the federal DMR case pleaded not guilty at their arraignment Wednesday morning in Gulfport federal court. Judge Robert Walker then set a trial date for December 16th. But defense attorneys say there's a good chance there will be a continuance and that trial date postponed.
The hearing took just 20 minutes in a federal courtroom. Five defendants, flanked by eight defense attorneys, were arraigned on public corruption charges ranging from mail fraud to money laundering.
The five include former DMR Executive Director Dr. Bill Walker, who faces up to 75 years if convicted on charges of federal program fraud and mail fraud.
His son, Scott Walker, also faces up to 75 years on those same charges if convicted, plus another 45 years if convicted in a separate indictment on charges that include bribery and money laundering.
Former D'Iberville City Manager Michael Janus also faces bribery and money laundering charges and up to 45 years if he is found guilty on all counts.
Former DMR employee Tina Shumate faces a possible 15 years if convicted on two charges that allege federal fraud.
And former DMR employee Joseph Ziegler Jr. faces a maximum 20 years if he's found guilty on a trio of mail fraud charges.
Judge Robert Walker set a trial date for December 16th. But attorneys say a continuance is likely.
"Possible what may happen is a motion for a continuance may be filed. You know the trial date is somewhat early. But that's not unusual," said attorney Joe Sam Owen, who represents Joseph Ziegler Jr.
"I would expect it. I'm not sure at this point in time. That's pretty quick, as you can tell," added attorney Tim Holleman, who represents Tina Shumate.
Another concern of the defense attorneys has to be pre-trial publicity. This case has received extensive media coverage here on the coast.
Scott Walker's lead attorney says that negative publicity is cause for concern.
"Well, you know Scott Walker has been pilloried in the press for 18 months. I'm sure that's a factor we'll have to consider," said attorney, Arthur Madden.
"It always concerns me. Especially when we have leaks in the press. But we'll get to the truth," promised attorney Holleman.
Federal Judge Keith Starrett of Hattiesburg has been assigned to this case.
A pre-trial conference will be held in Hattiesburg December 6th. Again, the trial is set to begin in Gulfport on December 16, but could be delayed if the defense is granted a continuance.