08/07/2013 04:56 EDT | Updated 10/06/2013 05:12 EDT

Mental health issues cited in sentencing delay for former Nova Scotia politician

HALIFAX - The sentencing hearing for a former Nova Scotia politician who pleaded guilty in the province's spending scandal was delayed Wednesday after confiding to his lawyer about his mental health problems.

Trevor Zinck's lawyer, Lyle Howe, said he was loathe to request the eleventh-hour adjournment, but told Supreme Court Judge Glen MacDougall he felt ethically bound to do so after speaking with Zinck about his issues and how they may relate to the offences.

"With something like this, someone's life is on the line," Howe said outside court.

"If information comes to my attention that might be helpful, I have an obligation to tell that to the judge and that's what I did here."

Howe would not disclose what he and Zinck discussed.

He said he was aware of his client's underlying issues for some time, but didn't realize their extent until last weekend.

"He was pretty candid with me," Howe said. "It's not a situation where he was hiding things, it's a situation where he didn't have the time to turn his attention to things the way he should have."

MacDougall said he was surprised by the timing of the request, but recognized that Zinck "has a lot at stake."

He granted an adjournment until Aug. 16 for a status update. Sentencing arguments are scheduled to resume on Sept. 19.

The delay gives Zinck time to meet with counsellors, who may be called upon to submit expert reports to be considered as part of his sentencing.

Zinck pleaded guilty in June to fraud over $5,000 and breach of trust for accepting about $9,000 from the Speaker's Office to cover constituency expenses in 2008 and 2009, even though he didn't pay those owed money.

Zinck, who sat as an Independent, initially refused to quit politics following his guilty plea but changed course after the Speaker announced the legislature would be recalled to deal with his possible expulsion.

The Crown says it's seeking a jail term of between four and six months, while Howe says he will possibly seek a discharge.

Crown attorney Andrew Macdonald said he was opposed to delaying a case that's been slowly winding through the courts for more than two years.

"There's evidence that Mr. Zinck has engaged in counselling in the past in relation to these offences," Macdonald said outside court.

"Frankly, it's just a little late in the day to be coming forward and saying, 'We think we need to hire an expert.'"

Howe insisted his client wasn't trying to delay the inevitable.

"To be entirely clear, Mr. Zinck wants this to proceed as well. Who would want this hanging over their head any longer?"

Zinck declined comment outside the courtroom. Howe said he advised his client to go immediately to a counsellor after leaving the court.

Three other former politicians have also pleaded guilty to fraud-related charges that stemmed from a 2010 investigation by the province's auditor general into constituency allowance spending.