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Edwards’ Trial a Buffet of Legal Issues

It is the rare person indeed who has not heard at least something about Johnny Reid Edwards‘ marital affair and  brush with the law.  Although not convicted of misusing campaign donations, Edwards will never regain his golden boy status.  Edward’s entrepreneurial mistress, Rielle Hunter, released a book telling her side of the story on June 26th.   While this latest literary effort on a tawdry topic is likely to cover Edwards’ affair and the resulting child from these assignations, I feel confident in predicting that the publicity-savvy paramour will not have given the legal issues from the debacle the same degree of attention.  Despite her omission, the array of legal topics throughout the Edwards saga reads like an exam question in issue spotting and may well be of interest to those with an interest in the law.

The legal issue that received the most press, and was of greatest concern to Edwards (as a possible sentence of 30 years does tend to get one’s attention), was the alleged violation of campaign finance laws.  After a hearing before the Federal Election Commission, Edwards was required to return over 2 million in federal election funds.  However, the FEC also found that donations Edwards used to pay expenses of his mistress and to hide his affair were not campaign contributions and therefore, did not need to be reported.  Despite the determine of the FEC, the Justice Department was not convinced and chose to move forward with charges of conspiracy and false statements in addition to receiving illegal campaign contributions.  After much sturm and drang, including a two month trial delay for Edwards to undergo heart surgery, a jury eventually found Edwards not guilty on one count and were deadlocked on the remaining five.  The Justice Department has announced that it will not refile the case.

Family law issues also abounded. Along with the commonplace matters of separation and divorce, the Edwards legal extravaganza included issues of paternity and the use of an archaic law. When Edward’s initially admitted to his affair, he still denied that he was the father of his mistress’s child.  In fact, he claimed that his former aide, Andrew Young, was the actual father and asked the aide to support this story. In a disclosure worthy of Maury Povitch, it was later determined that, JOHN EDWARDS, YOU ARE THE FATHER OF THE CHILD!  In addition to the matter of paternity, Elizabeth Edwards added another legal twist when she threatened to sue Young  under the concept of “alienation of affection,” based on his role in covering up his former boss’s affair.  Not only did she threaten to use this archaic cause of action, she chose not to use it against “the other woman,” but  instead she chose the more unusual, yet legally permissible, option of suing a third party who facilitated the marital breakdown.   Allegedly, Elizabeth Edwards was using this threat to force Young to stop speaking publicly about the Edwards’ marriage, and to either give her or destroy voice mails that she had left him during the 2008 presidential campaign.

Voice mails were not the only recordings to play a part in the saga.  When Andrew Young released his tell-all book about the events, it was discovered that he and his wife were in possession of an alleged sex tape featuring  Hunter and Edwards.  The Youngs claimed to have found the tape in the trash at a house they shared with Hunter, and claimed that they could not be sure that the tape belonged to Hunter.  Hunter alleged that she had stored the tape containing “matters of a very private and personal nature”  at the house along with other personal items.  Hunter sued the Youngs to recover the  videotape and  was initially granted a temporary restraining order to prevent the Youngs,  from selling or otherwise distributing the tape.  Eventually Superior Court Judge Abraham Penn Jones held Young and his wife  in contempt  and ordered that the “items … be produced and turned over to the court [or the couple would be put] under lock and key — and under seal — until the lawsuit is resolved.”  The couple claimed difficulty in complying due to the fact that the  tape was “in a safety deposit box in Atlanta that required two keys to open, and one of the keys was in possession of a lawyer undergoing medical treatment in New York.”  Despite these concerns, the promise of jail time proved an effective motivator.  The contempt charge was issued on a Friday and  Andrew Young , with an escort from a court appointed private security guard , managed to retrieve the original  tape from the safe deposit box in Atlanta on the following Tuesday and turn it over to the court the next day.

These are only the most notorious of the legal issues.  Consider yourself invited to join in this legal “Where’s Waldo” game and share any legal issues that this post overlooked or that you think should have been brought.

Where’s Johnny?

 

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