John Edwards' 'serious' medical condition leads to trial delay

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A cardiologist for former presidential candidate John Edwards says he has a life-threatening medical condition that will require surgery next month, a federal judge disclosed Friday as she postponed Edwards’ campaign corruption trial for at least two months.

Saying the 58-year-old Edwards suffers from "a serious condition," U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles delayed the trial until at least March 26. The judge said she had read two letters from Edwards’ cardiologist but she did not disclose details about the former senator’s condition.

Eagles quoted the cardiologist as saying that Edwards’ condition is treatable, with a good chance of recovery. She said the doctor recommended that Edwards avoid driving or traveling.

"Clearly the ends of justice are served by continuance, given the seriousness of his medical condition," Eagles said.

She asked Edwards’ lawyers to provide her with a medical update Feb. 28.

Edwards, whose presence in court had been requested by Eagles, walked in and out of the federal courthouse in Greensboro, N.C., without assistance, the Associated Press reported.

The trial, which was continued twice prior to Friday’s hearing, had been scheduled to begin Jan. 30.

Edwards is a one-term U.S. senator who ran as a vice-presidential candidate with Sen. John Kerry on the 2004 Democratic ticket and twice ran for president. He is charged with six felony and misdemeanor counts.

Prosecutors say Edwards violated campaign finance laws while attempting to cover up an illicit affair with a campaign videographer who later gave birth to his daughter. He faces up to 30 years in prison and $1.5 million in fines if convicted on all counts.

A federal indictment in June alleged that Edwards accepted more than $900,000 in illegal contributions from Bunny Mellon, a philanthropist in Virginia, and the late Fred Baron, a Texas lawyer. The indictment said the payments were campaign contributions used by Edwards to pay living expenses for Rielle Hunter while trying to keep their affair secret.

Edwards’ wife, Elizabeth Edwards, suffered from terminal cancer at the time. She died in December 2010.

Edwards has said he committed no crimes. His lawyers have argued that the payments were private gifts to Hunter and her entourage, not campaign contributions, and thus did not violate campaign finance laws.

Edwards’ lawyers have also maintained that the charges are unconstitutionally vague and politically motivated. Those arguments have been dismissed by Judge Eagles.

"The public has an interest in a speedy trial," Eagles said in court Friday. "Ordinarily I would try to manage something like this. But clearly there are some limitations on Mr. Edwards due to real and serious health issues."

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-- David Zucchino in Durham, N.C.

Photo: Former U.S. Sen. and presidential candidate John Edwards is surrounded by the media as he leaves federal court in Greensboro, N.C., on Oct. 26. Credit: Chuck Burton / Associated Press

 
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Rene Lynch has been an editor and writer in Metro, Sports, Business, Calendar and Food. @ReneLynch

As an editor and reporter, Michael Muskal has covered local, national, economic and foreign issues at three newspapers, including the Los Angeles Times. @latimesmuskal


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