The Constitutional Court on Tuesday scheduled more hearings later this month to question eight out of 15 witnesses President Park Geun-hye's lawyers wanted called.
They include Park's longtime confidante Choi Soon-sil, who is at the center of the massive influence-peddling and corruption scandal that led to the president's impeachment.
All are suspected of being involved in extortion for Choi's dubious Mir and K-Sports foundations or helping Choi with other businesses. The court said they will be questioned on Feb. 16, 20 and 22.
Choi and former presidential secretary An Chong-bum were already questioned by the National Assembly's impeachment committee and by Park's lawyers on Jan. 16. But the president's lawyers, in an apparent attempt to drag out proceedings, have requested further questioning.
The additional hearings quash any hopes of the court reaching a ruling before the end of this month. But since Park's lawyers have accepted the court's decision to limit the number of witnesses, legal experts believe a ruling could still be reached before March 13, when acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi's term ends.
It remains to be seen whether the witnesses, who have been uncooperative before, will appear on the set dates and whether Park's lawyers will try to foist more witnesses on the court.
Asked if he intends to put more witnesses on the stand, Park's attorney Lee Joong-hwan only said he selected witnesses "most sparingly," an ominous hint that more could follow.
Kwon Seong-dong, the chief of the National Assembly panel that acts as the prosecution, said, "It was excessive of the court to select more than half of the witnesses that the president's side proposed with the clear purpose of delaying the trial."
Hwang Jung-keun, another member of the National Assembly panel, said, "If the witnesses sought by the president do not appear in court in the scheduled dates, their selection must be canceled. If not, there is no telling when the trial will end."
Judge Lee said the court is mindful of that prospect and explained that it decided to question several witnesses at a time to speed up proceedings.
Acting Chief Justice Lee Jung-mi talks in the Constitutional Court in Seoul on Tuesday. /Yonhap