Local Politics

Judge threatens jail time for ex-Edwards aide

Posted March 9, 2010 1:11 p.m. EST
Updated March 10, 2010 5:58 p.m. EST

— A judge said Tuesday that he was considering jail time for a former aide to two-time Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards because of questions about a videotape purported to show Edwards engaged in extramarital sex.

Superior Court Judge Abraham Penn Jones said he was tempted to send Andrew Young to jail for up to 75 days for contempt of court – he even momentarily ordered Young to jail before backing off – unless he surrendered all copies of the sex tape. He said he wouldn't jail Young's wife.

"It troubles me," Jones said. "I tried to be patient – patient and firm – but I don't want to be a fool."

Rielle Hunter, a campaign staffer who had an affair and a child with Edwards, sued the Youngs on Jan. 28, saying they had taken a video she described as "very private and personal," as well as campaign videos she shot and pictures of her daughter.

She alleged that the Youngs wanted the items to generate publicity for his book, "The Politician," which chronicles Edwards' rise and fall and provides details of his affair with Hunter.

A federal grand jury in Raleigh is investigating whether campaign funds were illegally used to cover up Edwards' affair.

Hunter obtained a restraining order that bars the couple from using the videos or photos. Jones found the Youngs in contempt for not immediately surrendering the items but didn't send them to jail to give them time to gather the items.

Last month, the Youngs turned over to the court a videotape labeled "Special," four other VHS videotapes, two CDs with copies of photos and a USB drive containing photos. Jones said the items would remain sealed until the lawsuit between Hunter and the Youngs is resolved.

The couple and their attorneys have repeatedly argued that everything listed in the restraining order has been surrendered to the court.

"They have made every effort to comply with the court's orders," attorney Robert Elliot said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Hunter's attorneys demanded that the Youngs go to jail, saying they couldn't be trusted when claiming that no other copies of the sex tape existed.

"There’s no telling how many of those other (copied) tapes are out there,” Wade Barber, an attorney for Hunter, told Jones. ”The court should order forthwith that the sheriff of Chatham County should take Andrew Young into custody immediately.”

Barber and attorney Alan Duncan also questioned why another USB drive and a CD full of photos showing Edwards with the child haven't been turned over.

Young said he lost the USB drive and doesn't know if the disk in question ever existed.

"We weren’t organized. We weren’t. It was chaotic," he said of late 2007 and early 2008, when he was publicly posing as the father of Hunter's child in an effort to protect Edwards' candidacy.

Hunter's attorneys also accused Young of lying in an affidavit about who viewed the sex tape. A freelance writer who was friends with the Youngs and worked for Edwards claims to have seen it.

"Andrew Young offered very casually to show the 'sex tape' to me," Robert Draper said in an affidavit. "I did not have any sense that he was showing it for the first time or that I was the first person to whom he had shown the recording.”

Young said he doesn't recall showing the tape to Draper.

"I’m not denying that, but I have absolutely no recollection,” he said.

Elliot contended that the continued demands by Hunter's attorneys amount to "free discovery," saying the Youngs are turning over items that have nothing to do with the lawsuit.

"Ninety percent of what my clients brought in didn’t have anything to do from taking it from her," he said. "There is no way most of this information we’ve brought in here can be relevant to those (invasion of privacy) claims."

Jones scheduled another hearing in the case for Friday afternoon and ordered Young to look for the USB drive and CD in the meantime. If he cannot find them, he must explain what he did to search for them.