KENBRIDGE, VA., AUG. 10 -- Former state senator James T. Edmunds admitted today skimming more than $170,000 from his legal clients and said he had taken steps to stop practicing law and sever his political ties.

Edmunds, 55, said in a telephone interview that he went to the Lunenburg County commonwealth's attorney and the county sheriff last week to tell them of his embezzlement, which he said resulted from business losses.

"I couldn't live with it anymore," he said in a telephone interview. "I felt I should make a fresh start."

Edmunds, a Democrat, who served in the Senate from 1972 to 1980, said no charges had been filed as of today, but he expected they would be forthcoming. He said he waived his right to a grand jury hearing before charges are brought.

Attempts to reach authorities in the Southside Virginia county late today to confirm Edmunds' statements were unsuccessful. No one answered calls to the office of the commonwealth's attorney, and a deputy at the Lunenburg County jail said no one in the sheriff's office would be available for comment until Tuesday.

Edmunds said he took the money -- all of which has been spent -- from the escrow accounts of five clients over a period of several years.

"I started off taking this money in small amounts expecting to pay it back, but I have not been able to do so," he said in a statement.

"There is no excuse for my actions," the statement continued. "They were motivated by a series of business reversals starting many years ago."

Edmunds, a lawyer for 32 years, said he would petition the state Supreme Court to be removed from the Virginia State Bar. He said he has resigned as chairman of both the 5th District Democratic Committee and the state Board of Community Colleges.

Edmunds said most of the money he took will be covered by bonds, but he also has established a trust fund to pay the balance.

"I pledge that I will spend the rest of my life trying to repay this debt to my clients," he said.

Edmunds said he had contacted four of the five clients he took the money from. He declined to identify them. About 120 other clients from his legal practice are being referred to other lawyers, he said.

Edmunds was vice chairman of the Democratic Caucus and represented the 17th Senatorial District, which at the time stretched from Mecklenburg County to Richmond. The district has since been realigned.