POLITICS

Mike Duffy Senate expenses case in court to set trial date

09/23/2014 08:15 EDT | Updated 11/23/2014 05:59 EST
Suspended Senator Mike Duffy's fraud, bribery and breach of trust case is back in court this morning, as lawyers are expected to set a date for what could be a lengthy trial at a politically sensitive time for the Harper government.

Duffy is not expected to be present when lawyers for both sides convene in an Ottawa courtroom at 8:30 a.m. ET. The former Conservative senator was also not in court for his first date last Tuesday.

Duffy's lawyer, Donald Bayne, was asked heading into court on Tuesday morning whether a court date would be set at this appearance.

"We're hoping," he told reporters.

Bayne told reporters last week that Duffy wants to skip preliminary hearings and proceed straight to trial. He expects arguments could take six to eight weeks, with many witnesses to be called, including individuals who have served or continue to serve at the heart of the Harper government.

Keith Beardsley, who served as a deputy chief of staff to Prime Minister Stephen Harper for five years, told CBC News last week that the closer the trial is to the next federal election expected in 2015, the more damaging the information that could come out at trial may be for the Conservatives.

Duffy faces 31 criminal counts related to his Senate expense claims, which stem from his housing and travel charges and a $90,000 "gift" that Harper's former chief of staff, Nigel Wright, gave to Duffy when controversy emerged over his expense claims, and the former Tory senator was under a lot of political pressure to pay taxpayers back.

One big question looms over the trial: How much did Harper know about the secret $90,000 payment?

The prime minister on many occasions has insisted that he knew nothing of the plan to repay Duffy's expenses.

Last week, Tories on Parliament Hill continued to distance themselves from the disgraced senator, with one saying he was "obviously guilty."