A federal judge has postponed the racketeering trial of Teamster President Jackie Presser until government-appointed doctors can determine whether he is too sick to aid in his defense.
U.S. District Court Judge George M. White in Cleveland gave the Justice Department until the end of February to complete the examination. The trial had been scheduled to begin Feb. 15.
Presser, Harold Friedman and Anthony Hughes are charged with participating in a payroll-padding scheme in Teamster Local 507 in Cleveland. Presser's lawyers argue that the padding was authorized by the FBI while Presser was a government informant.
In a motion this month, Presser asked for an indefinite postponement of the trial until he had completed treatment for lung cancer. Presser, who had a malignant tumor removed from his lung a year ago, has been undergoing chemotherapy and radiation treatment.
Presser's lawyers said he has been hospitalized twice in recent months as a result of the treatment and is "physically unable to assist in the pretrial preparation of his defense."
John Climaco, Presser's trial lawyer and Teamster general counsel, said that, as a result of the treatment, "he will not be mentally or physically able to stand trial on Feb. 15, 1988." Climaco said Presser is "cancer free" as a result of his treatments.
Presser has been spending much of his time since last year's surgery in Phoenix. Last week, Justice Department lawyers interviewed his doctors there in an effort to determine his ability to stand trial.
After the interviews, the Justice Department asked White for more time so government-appointed doctors could examine Presser.
Presser was absent Jan. 14 when the Teamsters opened negotiations for a new national trucking agreement, although he was quoted extensively in a joint press release issued by the union and trucking industry. Union officials insist that Presser will be in charge of bargaining. The trucking agreement expires March 31.
The Justice Department, in a motion filed with White last week, agreed that the trial should be postponed until the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals rules on a motion to deny Presser access to certain government evidence until the trial starts. The appeals court is to hear oral arguments next Tuesday.
White has scheduled a hearing Feb. 16 on the case's status. Sources close to the trial say the trial of Friedman and Hughes might proceed if Presser is unable to stand trial.