updated 7/13/2005 8:57:15 PM ET 2005-07-14T00:57:15

Adelphia Communications Corp. founder John Rigas and his son, Timothy, can remain free pending appeal of convictions in a fraud scandal that plunged the cable giant into bankruptcy three years ago, a judge said Wednesday.

John Rigas, 80, was sentenced last month to 15 years in prison and his son was sentenced to 20 years. They were originally supposed to report to prison Sept. 19.

Judge Leonard Sand permitted the men to remain free pending appeal, saying the defense raised a novel issue of whether the government should have been required to call an expert witness to testify to the jury about accounting principles.

"I think, under the unique circumstances of this case, that bail pending appeal is appropriate," the judge said.

He said issues affecting his decision included that the defendants were not likely to flee or pose a danger to the community, that the appeal was not for the purpose of delaying the prison term and that a substantial question of law was raised.

The judge said he had no control over how quickly the appeals court would consider the case. An appeal can typically last a year or longer.

The elder Rigas and his son, the company's former chief financial officer, were convicted a year ago of looting the company to line their pockets and hiding more than $2 billion in company debt.

Sand also said Wednesday that he had decided that the retrial of Michael Rigas should be heard by another judge.

He said he expressed views during the sentencing of the Rigases that made it inappropriate for him to hear the next trial.

Michael Rigas, the company's former executive vice president for operations, had faced retrial in October after jurors were deadlocked on securities fraud and bank fraud charges against him.

Former Adelphia assistant treasurer Michael Mulcahey was tried with the Rigases but was acquitted of all charges.

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