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John Edwards criminal trial set for October

John Edwards let his attorneys do his talking for the 30-minute hearing in which the judge tentatively set October as the month for trial of the campaign finance case brought last month against the former US senator and 2008 presidential candidate.

By Jacob Anne BlytheMcClatchy Newspapers / July 15, 2011

John Edwards (c.) arrives with attorneys Wade Smith (l.) and Jim Cooney at the federal courthouse in Greensboro, N.C., on June 21. Edwards has pleaded not guilty to four counts of illegal campaign contributions and charges of conspiracy and making false statements.

Chuck Burton/AP/File

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GREENSBORO, N.C.

John Edwards, a trial lawyer who once had a reputation for captivating an entire courtroom with his powerful and persuasive closing arguments, sat quietly in federal court on Thursday as his lawyers asked for more time to prepare for his criminal trial.

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Edwards, 58, let his attorneys do his talking for the 30-minute hearing in which the judge tentatively set October as the month for trial of the campaign finance case brought last month against the former U.S. senator and 2008 presidential candidate.

Jim Cooney, a Charlotte attorney, argued for a later trial date, saying the case was complex and unusual and the sheer volume of documents collected by prosecutors would be overwhelming for his staff to quickly analyze.

Defense lawyers have received 10,000 documents from prosecutors and expect 20,000 more, including campaign email and Internal Revenue Service tax filings.

Prosecutors contend that Edwards violated campaign finance laws by secretly obtaining and using contributions from two wealthy supporters to hide his mistress and her pregnancy from the public during his unsuccessful bid for president in 2008.

The payments, which covered living, medical and other expenses for Rielle Hunter, a videographer with whom he had an extramarital affair and a child, are at the heart of the dispute. Prosecutors argue the donations were campaign contributions because they were meant to hide the affair so Edwards could keep his 2008 presidential bid alive. They also contend the contributions exceeded legal limits.

Edwards has said he did not break the law.

Legal analysts have been watching the case as one that could expand or clarify the definition of campaign contributions.

"This is a legal theory on which no one has ever been prosecuted," Cooney told N. Carlton Tilley, the judge overseeing the proceeding.

A new judge will be assigned to the case and set a more specific trial date. Tilley told the lawyers his decision Thursday would not prohibit them from broaching the topic of delay with the next judge.

"You folks have not brought a whole lot more to the table than you did last month," Tilley said, reminding the lawyers of a hearing last month in which they successfully won a delay.

Prosecutors acknowledged that some of their documents associated with the case had not been turned over to defense lawyers. Some are tied to a lawsuit that Hunter filed against Andrew Young, a former Edwards' aide who wrote a tell-all book about the 2008 presidential campaign.

Hunter claims Young took personal property from her, including a purported tape of her having sex withEdwards.

Although the cases are about different legal issues and one is in federal criminal court and the other in state superior court, the two overlap some.

Edwards answered questions under oath for six hours for the lawsuit in state court.

Young is expected to be a key witness for the prosecution in the campaign finance case.

David Harbach, a prosecutor from the U.S. Justice Department, told Tilley on Thursday that he was having difficulties turning over some of the documents on which prosecutors had built their case.

Some are tax documents. Some were in court files, under seal.

Harbach added that prosecutors were "somewhat constrained" in what they could disclose to the defense about how they obtained some documents.

Prosecutors, defense lawyers and Edwards all declined to comment after the hearing.

Hunter's attorneys were at the hearing, watching from the gallery. They met with prosecutors afterward, but declined to comment on their discussions.

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