Jury Selection Starts In Edwards Case with Controversial Campaign Finance Charges

Jury selection began yesterday in Greensboro, N.C., in the federal trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards. Because of the extremely prejudicial aspects of Edwards’ infidelity while his wife was battling cancer, voir dire and pre-trial motions in limine will be critically important in the case. Equally important will be the legal basis for the campaign finance charges in the case over the use of third-party funds to hide his affair with Rielle Hunter. In my view, the charges stretch the law too far but the government will still have to convince a jury. The greatest danger for the defense remains the prejudicial elements and how they may warp the jury’s view of the facts and legal standard.

Edwards is accused of using nearly $1 million in donor contributions to pay living expenses for a mistress. However, Edwards was given this money by third-parties – it did not pass through his campaign. He is also accused of conspiracy and false statements, which present more conventional questions for the jury.

The motions in limine will be fascinating to read. However, first the two sides will struggle mightily to select jurors — and question them as to their knowledge of the sensational facts in the case.

A key issue will be whether the jury willing to give Edwards the benefit of the doubt over his claimed lack of knowledge of the payments by his national campaign finance chairman, the late Texas lawyer Fred Baron, and campaign donor Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, an heiress and socialite. Baron and Mellon had already given Edwards’ campaign the maximum $2,300 individual contribution allowed by federal law and Edwards says that he was unaware that they paid for private jets, luxury hotels and medical treatments for Hunter. However, even if he knew, the motivation in such a case is as obvious as it is classic — he was covering up an affair from his wife. That would appear more of a motivation than seeking to acquire illegal campaign contributions. That was clearly the view of the Federal Election Commission which investigated the case and declined to seek charges or issue a fine. Yet, the Justice Department decided to ignore the view of experts at the FEC and push the envelope on what constitutes a federal campaign finance violation.

While I am no fan of Edwards, the case seems driven more by political than legal considerations. There was tremendous pressure to punish Edwards for his disgraceful conduct, but there remains a serious question whether this political scandal should have been left to a political response. Indeed, Edwards is now living as an isolated and despised individual. This seems like the criminalization of being a cad.

Here is a copy of the indictment: usa-v-edwards

Source: Washington Post

49 thoughts on “Jury Selection Starts In Edwards Case with Controversial Campaign Finance Charges”

  1. In Ohio Monday, Sen. John McCain weighed in on potential vice presidential candidates for Mitt Romney by praising Ohio Sen. Rob Portman. Portman endorsed Romney in January.

    He is “clearly in the top tier” as a VP pick, McCain told the Associated Press after an event in which he endorsed Senate candidate Josh Mandel in Columbus. “He has made a mark in the Senate in a short period of time that I think is nothing less than phenomenal. He brings to the Senate credentials on the key issues of jobs and the economy no one else has. And so I think he would be a very strong running mate for Mitt Romney.”

  2. @Michael Murry (and others): , I agree with those who advise putting more important priorities before scandalous sex distractions …

    In my experience, anytime somebody calls for priorities to be considered, they are trying to have their cake and eat it too: They are really saying that something should not be done, but want to leave the appearance that it might get done, someday, when all the other work runs out, which of course will never happen.

    In this case, the activist alternatives you propose are not realistic alternative actions for the DOJ, they are conducting the war on whistleblowers. So you are really saying they should sit on their hands.

    The point of prosecuting Edwards is not for prurient interest. The law is not broken by extramarital sex or out of wedlock pregnancy or lies to spouses.

    In fact, to avoid prurient interest, I would prefer that all video and audio recordings of the trial be withheld from the public until the jury has returned with a decision. Ever since the OJ trial, I believe allowing cameras into the courtroom influences the judge, jury, and both prosecution and defense. I believe that national attention influences their actions; the feedback of seeing themselves on TV turns them into performers instead of workers and interferes with their sworn duties.

    It is human psychology to not care as much about the story once the outcome is determined; most of what keeps people interested in drama is not knowing how it will all turn out. Any media storm of prurient interest will die quickly if the details are released AFTER the verdict is rendered. I see no compelling reason to air it live, all interests of full disclosure to the public of what happened in the trial will be served completely by recording the trial and releasing that after the verdict.

    The point of prosecution is to determine if laws were broken. The motivations are a part of that, but the motivations were not prurient: They were once removed from prurience, they were to to conceal the affair. We do not need to know the details of which pages of the Kama Sutra were referenced, it is sufficient for us to know what we already know: The affair involved intercourse that resulted in pregnancy. Everything else we need to know is not prurient at all; it is about accounting and money.

  3. lotta and Tony,

    Honor in any man or woman in any station in life is a thing to be cherished.

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