Picking jury in Edwards case ‘acquired art’ for prosecutors, defense

April 18, 2012

WRAL.com on April 17, 2012 released the following:

“GREENSBORO, N.C. — A federal judge on Tuesday questioned two dozen potential jurors in the trial of John Edwards while prosecutors and defense attorneys tried to gauge who would best serve their interests in determining the former presidential candidate’s guilt or innocence.

Edwards has pleaded not guilty to six criminal counts related to secret payments from wealthy campaign donors used to hide his pregnant mistress, Rielle Hunter, as he sought the White House in 2008.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles disqualified 56 of 185 potential jurors on Monday based on their responses to written questionnaires given to them last week. Most of those dismissed said they had already made up their minds in the case, while others were excused for health or personal reasons or because serving on a six-week trial would be an economic hardship.

Eagles addressed the remaining members of the jury pool in groups of 12 on Tuesday, asking them general questions about the case, such as their feelings about lawyers, politicians and people who have affairs, to determine whether they could be impartial.

Former federal prosecutor Kieran Shanahan said it’s “an acquired art” for attorneys in such cases to be able to select jurors sympathetic to their side.

“They observe the way jurors are dressed, the way they react – are they forthcoming to the judge – but they are pretty much observers in this process rather than direct participants,” Shanahan said. “These jurors are revealing little pieces about themselves – their background, their history.”

Prosecutors and defense attorneys have already spent several days combing through the questionnaires for clues to how each juror might lean in the case, he said, and they add their in-person analysis during Eagles’ questioning to that.

“If you’re the defense, you’re looking for jurors who can be sympathetic, who may say, ‘enough is enough,’ who wouldn’t necessarily walk in lock-step with the government,” he said. “If you’re the federal prosecutor, you’re looking for jurors who can follow instructions, who generally have a background of complying with the law.”

Edwards’ parents and elder daughter Cate have been accompanying him to the courthouse daily since jury selection started last week. Shanahan said the family support “sends a subliminal message” favoring the defense to prospective jurors.

“Everything that goes on in this courtroom is meant to influence or persuade in some manner,” he said.

Eagles determined 17 of the 24 jurors questioned Tuesday were qualified for the jury. The attorneys on both sides will pick the 12 jurors and four alternates next Monday before testimony begins in the trial.

Edwards’ national campaign finance chairman, the late Texas lawyer Fred Baron, and campaign donor Rachel “Bunny” Mellon, an heiress and socialite who is now 101 years old, gave nearly $1 million combined for Hunter’s medical care and to pay for flights and accommodations for her during the campaign. Both had already given Edwards’ campaign the maximum $2,300 individual contribution allowed by federal law.

Edwards maintains the money for Hunter was personal gifts and not contributions to his campaign.”

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To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Criminal Defense Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas C. McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.


John Edwards, his attorneys deny conflicts of interest

October 17, 2011

Politico on October 17, 2011 released the following:

“Posted by Josh Gerstein

Defense attorneys for former Sen. John Edwards (D-N.C.) are denying that there are any conflicts of interests that could preclude them from faithfully representing him in the federal prosecution he faces for allegedly receiving illegal, in-kind campaign contributions from donors who paid expenses of Edwards’s mistress and a child he fathered by her.

Edwards submitted a letter of his own to the court noting that he is an attorney, is aware that one of his new defense attorneys—Abbe Lowell—previously represented two possible witnesses in the case, and is fine with it. Lowell previously did legal work related to the same matter for former Edwards pollster and political aide Harrison Hickman, as well as Lisa Blue, the widow of Fred Baron—one of the donors who funded the mistress, Rielle Hunter.

“I have considered all the possibilities, and I do not see or believe there to be any conflict of interest or even potential conflict of interest between Mr. Lowell’s prior representations and his current representation of me,” Edwards wrote in an undated letter to Judge Catherine Eagles. “Even if this representation were a conflict of interest (which I do not believe it to be), after consultatyion with attorneys other than Mr. Lowell, I waive any such conflict.”

A court filing (posted here) by Edwards’s lawyers takes the same stance. “Mr. Edwards and his counsel have concluded that Mr. Lowell’s prior represenation of other witnesses does not create an actual or potential conflict in any way,” Edwards attorneys Lowell, Christopher Man and James Cooney III wrote.

The defense acknowledges that Lowell “put together from available sources information concerning funds Mr. Baron had given to Rielle Hunter and/or Andrew Young,” an Edwards aide who initially claimed paternity of Hunter’s child but later said Edwards was the father. Lowell also “faciliated” prosecutors interview with Hickman in the fall of 2010, the filing says. The filing also acknowledges that Lowell had direct e-mail contact with Hunter, which was part of “an attempt, after-the-fact, to determine what funds were paid and whether Ms. Blue had any financial obligations after Mr. Baron’s death.”

One well-known member of Edwards’s defense team, North Carolina attorney Wade Smith, has agreed to leave the case after prosecutors said he acknowledged in 2009 that the money paid to Hunter was a personal gift to Edwards and that Edwards was aware of the financial support.

“This was a conflict of the government’s making,” the new defense filing insists, hinting that prosecutors raised the issue to push Smith, a renowned trial attorney, off the case.

The defense also argues that the 2009 statement by Smith isn’t relevant to the charges knowingly accepted in-kind campaign donations in 2007 and 2008. The filing says Smith stepped aside so that “the truth about this conversation (if relevant)” can be demonstrated if he’s called as a witness at trial.

Prosecutors raised the possible conflicts last month in a fairly-common procedure that would likely preclude Edwards from raising the issues either at trial or on appeal. Their motion for a court inquiry into the matter also allowed them to detail in public some of the evidence and legal back-and-forth in the case. Eagles is expected to tak up the issue at a hearing in Greensboro, N.C. next week.

One side note: Edwards’s personally-signed letter to the judge twice refers to Hickman, his longtime political adviser, as “Mr. Harrison.” His full name is Robert Harrison Hickman, according to a letter he submitted saying he has no problem with Lowell representing Edwards.”

To find additional federal criminal news, please read Federal Crimes Watch Daily.

Douglas McNabb and other members of the U.S. law firm practice and write and/or report extensively on matters involving Federal Criminal Defense, INTERPOL Red Notice Removal, International Extradition and OFAC SDN Sanctions Removal.

The author of this blog is Douglas McNabb. Please feel free to contact him directly at mcnabb@mcnabbassociates.com or at one of the offices listed above.