RALEIGH, N.C. – John Edwards won't have to answer questions in a lawsuit involving a purported sex tape with his former mistress until criminal charges against the former senator are resolved, a North Carolina judge ruled Thursday.
Judge Carl Fox said he didn't want to add delays to a case that has already gone on for a year and a half, but the risk of violating Edwards' Constitutional protection from self-incrimination was too high.
"It's absolutely necessary in the interest of justice," the judge said.
Edwards filed a motion earlier this month asking to indefinitely postpone a deposition he was scheduled to give next week in a lawsuit filed by Rielle Hunter, the former campaign videographer with whom he had an affair that produced a child. Hunter is arguing that Andrew Young, a former Edwards campaign aide, has personal property of hers, including a purported sex tape depicting Edwards. Hunter is suing to have the items returned.
Young said Hunter left them behind after leaving a hideout they shared while covering up Edwards' affair during the 2008 presidential campaign. Initially, Young claimed to be the father of Hunter's child. Hunter said in an affidavit that she created a private video in September 2006.
James Cooney, a lawyer for Edwards, told the judge that the one-time presidential candidate and 2004 Democratic vice presidential nominee has already extensively answered questions posed by Young's attorneys. Cooney said that in a six-hour February deposition, Edwards was asked roughly 2,200 questions, and answered all but 70 or so.
"He's already answered all the directly relevant questions about this case," Cooney said.
Edwards, Hunter and Young were absent from the Raleigh courtroom Thursday.
Cooney said Young's lawyers now want to ask questions that could bear directly on the criminal case Edwards is facing. Earlier this month, Edwards was indicted on six counts of violating federal campaign finance laws. Prosecutors charge that he failed to report nearly $1 million allegedly spent to keep his mistress out of the public eye as he pursued the White House.
Answers given by Edwards in the civil case could be used against him in the criminal proceeding, Cooney argued, which would violate the Fifth Amendment's protection against self-incrimination.
David Pishko, a lawyer representing Young, argued that with the civil trial scheduled to begin in October, Young's attorneys need to finish preparing for the case. He argued that Edwards' involvement in a separate criminal matter shouldn't deter that.
"Mr. Edwards has sort of created the mess we're looking at," Pishko said.
If Edwards wanted, he could decline to answer any questions in the civil deposition, citing the very Fifth Amendment his lawyers say could be violated, Pishko argued.
There's no clear indication when the criminal matter might be resolved. Lawyers for both sides are scheduled to meet in federal court next week to try and hammer out a schedule. Cooney guessed that if a criminal trial does happen, it would likely begin sometime between late October and the end of January.
Fox agreed that it's frustrating to delay aspects of the civil trial without a clear timeframe. The judge, a former prosecutor, also said it would be extremely difficult to get a deposition from Edwards if he's convicted on any of the criminal charges and sentenced to federal prison.
But in the end, Fox said the protection of Edwards' rights trumps other worries.
"Needless to say, I'm concerned about someone's Fifth Amendment rights being violated," Fox said. "The stakes are quite high."
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