July 14, 2011

Judge sets October trial date for Edwards

John Breen Associated Press
 
Associated Press photo

Former presidential candidate John Edwards, right, leaves federal court in Greensboro, N.C., on Thursday with attorney Jim Cooney following.
(Full-size photo)

GREENSBORO, N.C. — The trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards can begin in October, a federal judge said Thursday, despite arguments from the ex-senator’s lawyers that they need more time.

Edwards is accused of accepting illegal campaign contributions to hide an affair during his unsuccessful 2008 White House bid. Prosecutors also say he filed false campaign reports to cover up the payments. Edwards has pleaded not guilty to six felony charges.

His lawyers had argued for a January trial, but District Court Judge Carlton Tilley said repeatedly that postponing the trial was not an option.

“You folks have not brought a whole lot more to the table than you did last month,” when lawyers successfully sought a delay in scheduling the trial, the judge said.

Tilley set a deadline of Sept. 6 for motions, with responses due a few weeks later. The decision is at least an initial victory for prosecutors, although the defense can still argue for a later time. A new judge will soon be assigned to the case and responsible for setting an exact date.

Edwards’ lawyers argued Tilley’s timeline was unrealistic because of the sheer volume of documents they have to analyze. They’ve received thousands of documents from prosecutors, and Edwards attorney James Cooney said they expect 10,000 to 20,000 more.

In addition, Cooney said there were technical problems getting the documents into a format where they can be readily analyzed, and that only a small number of staffers intimately familiar with the details of the case are capable of giving them adequate scrutiny.

“We’re simply in no position right now to talk about an appropriate time scheduling for a trial,” Cooney said.

Edwards did not speak at the hearing and declined to comment to reporters.

Edwards, a former Democratic vice-presidential nominee, faces charges stemming from his affair with Rielle Hunter, a videographer who followed his 2008 presidential campaign and later became his mistress and the mother of his child. Federal prosecutors say Edwards accepted contributions far above the legal limit in order to hide the relationship.

Some of the documents the defense lawyers are waiting to receive come from a lawsuit Hunter filed against former Edwards campaign aide Andrew Young. She claims Young took personal property from her, including a purported sex tape featuring Edwards. Although separate legal matters, the cases have an overlapping cast of characters. Edwards gave a lengthy deposition in the lawsuit and Young is expected to be a key prosecution witness in the campaign finance case.

Tilley said prosecutors need to make sure the defense team has all of the documents in time.

“The trial date which you asked for is largely in your hands,” he told prosecutors.

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