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. @rafflaw: Two wrongs do not make a right. I think what the banksters did is equivalent to outright fraud. Shall we henceforth stop prosecuting all fraud?

    I think what the torturers did was literally murder. Should we stop prosecuting all murder cases until torturers are brought to justice? It was at least physical abuse; shall we stop prosecuting wife beaters?

    Edwards should be prosecuted for the same reason we prosecute a murder in a bar with eyewitnesses; we have the evidence to do it. The fact that some people are getting away with high crimes is not a reason to abandon law altogether.

  2. While Edward’s actions disgusted me, he should be prosecuted right after the banksters get indicted and right after all of the torture crowd have done the perp walk.

  3. @Mike S: The law should be the law. If laws were vigorously enforced, I feel confident we would have fewer of them.

    An over-abundance of laws that are enforced whenever people in authority feel like it (and not when they don’t) permits discrimination by authority, and often self-serving discrimination, racial discrimination, and economic discrimination. There should be far less discretion in law enforcement; discretion is a large contributor to our loss of civil liberties: Politicians and the wealthy have no qualms about laws that strip us of civil liberty and protections, because those laws will never be applied to them. Only low level whistleblowers, Muslims, and economically powerless citizens will ever be punished.

    Plus, I do not consider a million dollar offense “minor,” that is a very biased characterization. The law should be the law, and leniency should never be the decision of anybody in authority, it should be an option only for a jury (or judge, if a jury trial is not used).

    If that overloads the courts, then so be it: Make taxpayers pay enough to cover the true cost of the laws they demand, or reduce the number of laws to something the courts can handle. Selective enforcement ruins lives, and I firmly believe, costs lives.

  4. Dredd:

    Good reference to Lord Acton. His full statement bears repeating:

    But if we might discuss this point until we found that we nearly agreed, and if we do agree thoroughly about the impropriety of Carlylese denunciations and Pharisaism in history, I cannot accept your canon that we are to judge Pope and King unlike other men, with a favourable presumption that they did no wrong. If there is any presumption it is the other way, against the holders of power, increasing as the power increases. Historic responsibility has to make up for the want of legal responsibility. Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great men are almost always bad men, even when they exercise influence and not authority, still more when you superadd the tendency or the certainty of corruption by authority. There is no worse heresy than that the office sanctifies the holder of it. That is the point at which the negation of Catholicism and the negation of Liberalism meet and keep high festival, and the end learns to justify the means. You would hang a man of no position like Ravaillac; but if what one hears is true, then Elizabeth asked the gaoler to murder Mary, and William III. ordered his Scots minister to extirpate a clan. Here are the greatest names coupled with the greatest crimes; you would spare those criminals, for some mysterious reason. I would hang them higher than Haman, for reasons of quite obvious justice, still more, still higher for the sake of historical science.

  5. I feel sorry for the children; they lost their mother to cancer and are now watching the disgrace of their father. What a legacy. Rielle’s child is also going to carry a heavy burden of disgraced parents with her through her life.

  6. “The law is the law”

    You know that isn’t true. The Law has become arbitrary and punishing this minor offense reeks of political vengeance Edwards is a disappointing ass, but compared to some in politics, he is hardly a criminal.

  7. “What was I thinking” is a phrase I’ve heard far too often over the years coming from the mouths of good friends who, within a few weeks, months, years of beginning an affair, look around as if having just awoken from a dream to find their life in tatters.

    I find myself, more often than not, in agreement with Tony C and this time his rationale for prosecution is correct, in my opinion..

    John Edwards disappointed me but no more so than others I have known. The consequences of betrayal are evident on many levels and are his to endure.

  8. Tony C . He could have been sincere about the “Two Americas”. I certainly believed he was. Just because he is a liar doesn’t necessarily mean he lied about every thing but who knows.

  9. @Swarthmore: I liked Edwards too, his “Two Americas” speech really resonated with me. I am not even so sure he wasn’t sincere about that, I think people can be sexually weak-willed and politically iron-willed.

    But the law is the law. If motivations are to be allowed exceptions, they must be written into the law (for example, self-defense can be a valid motivation for using lethal force in what would otherwise be called ‘murder’).

    There is no exception in campaign finance law that covering up sexual indiscretion should give people a pass. He should be prosecuted.

  10. I am reminded of the Englishman, Lord Acton, who moved to the U.S. because he admired our constitutional system:

    We are familiar with the saying about “power”:

    “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely. Great [people] are almost always bad [people].”

    (Lord Acton, emphasis added).

    That refers to a form of social, political, or governmental “power” that is different from the “power” physicists work with.

    (About Toxins of Power). His observations remain valid to this very day.

    Think about what it did to the Edwards family.

    On Morning Joe (MSNBC) today everyone agreed that this is a bad prosecution in the sense of a waste of taxpayer money, and which smacks of vengeance of some sort.

  11. 🙁

    I really liked him before I learned more about him…..

    he was a really good politician……


  12. “While I am no fan of Edwards, the case seems driven more by political and legal considerations.”

    Should this read “by politcal rather than legal”? If not I don’t see what the problem is (because legal considerations should drive any lawsuit).

  13. Edwards had no compassion for Mr. Barron or Elizabeth. Both have died of cancer and were undergoing treatment when he was lying and cheating. He put both of them under an extreme amount of stress. I have no compassion for him although I was once a supporter. I think I agree with Tony this time.

  14. “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.”

    I am curious as to whether there is evidence (or allegation) that Ms. Edwards knew of the affair. If so, that would support the argument that the motive was to keep the public from learning, which could be seen as a campaign goal.

  15. I think he should be prosecuted, and I will point out the FEC is essentially the fox guarding the chicken coop. The six members are appointed by the President, must be confirmed by the Senate, and no more than three can be from the same political party, and at least FOUR must vote to prosecute a campaign finance violation: They are deadlocked so often they are useless, and without enormous public pressure they pretty much limit their censures to bit players and avoid major figures.

    I do not understand those willing to forgive crimes, actual law-breaking, on the basis of nothing more than celebrity, or sympathy with the motivation. The law was broken, I do not care if he was trying to cover up an affair. Even if the money were given to him directly, it would be a gift he would be required to pay taxes on and did not. If they really wanted to do it legally, he could have asked Ms. Mellon to pay the bills directly as a gift to Ms. Hunter. Note that if the gift were paid directly to a medical institution on behalf of Ms .Hunter, it is not subject to any gift tax (See IRS Publication 950). Neither Ms. Mellon or Ms. Hunter need ever disclose why such a gift was made; a gift is a gift. Travel and hotels would be taxable gifts, but it would be Ms. Mellon (the donor) that would normally pay such tax, and that would be in the neighborhood of 20%; hardly a reason to break the law.

    Edwards is a lawyer, Ms. Mellon is wealthy enough to have lawyers and tax attorneys that know this stuff. They could have accomplished what they want legally through gifting, but they did not, they broke the law, an illegal campaign contribution was made, and it should be punished as such.

  16. Balance….. The key to excess…. Guess he’s learning the hard way….

  17. “While I am no fan of Edwards, the case seems driven more by political and legal considerations.”


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