By Ned Barnett
RALEIGH, North Carolina (Reuters) - A federal judge has ordered that the criminal trial of former senator and presidential candidate John Edwards be delayed three months until January 2012.
The delay was granted Wednesday after Edwards' lawyers requested more time to prepare a defense against charges that Edwards violated campaign finance laws.
Following Edwards' indictment in June, the trial was initially set for July. It was delayed until October, but Edwards' lawyers sought even more time to review some 400,000 pages of documents generated by the government's 34-month investigation.
U.S. Chief District Judge James A. Beaty Jr agreed to the extension in his order, but he indicted that any further extension was unlikely.
"The court concludes that a continuance is necessary in order to ensure defendant adequate time for preparation for trial, given the circumstances of this case, particularly the unusually large volume of discovery to be reviewed," Beaty wrote.
According to the motion for continuance, the discovery includes 83,982 pages of e-mail from Edwards' 2008 campaign for the Democratic presidential nomination and 3,532 pages of grand jury testimony from 26 witnesses.
Edwards' lawyers also say they need extra time to prepare because the government has brought charges based on an unprecedented application of campaign finance laws.
A federal grand jury indicted Edwards on six counts, including conspiracy, four counts involving illegal payments and one count of false statements. The charges revolve around more than $1 million used to cover up his extra-martial affair with Rielle Hunter, with whom he had a child. The money was given by Edwards supporters directly to Hunter and a former Edwards staffer to provide Hunter with moving, housing and living expenses.
Edwards' lawyers contend that the former U.S. Senator from North Carolina was hiding the affair from his wife and the donated money was not part of his campaign. The government said the money was effectively a campaign contribution aimed at keeping Edwards presidential hopes alive.
(Editing by Greg McCune)