Local Politics

Ex-Edwards aide avoids jail in sex tape fight

Posted March 12, 2010 1:20 p.m. EST
Updated March 12, 2010 10:36 p.m. EST

— After four court hearings over the last month, a Superior Court judge said late Friday that he wouldn't jail a former aide to two-time Democratic presidential candidate John Edwards for contempt of court.

"I'm not pleased the way this unfolded," Judge Abraham Penn Jones told Andrew Young and his wife.

Rielle Hunter, a campaign staffer who had an affair and a daughter 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 they 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 Youngs from using the videos or photos, and Jones found the Youngs in contempt for not immediately surrendering the items.

Jones repeatedly gave the Youngs more time to gather the items, despite pleas from Hunter's attorneys for Andrew Young to spend time behind bars. They claimed he hadn't surrendered a USB drive and a CD full of photos of Edwards and his daughter.

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.

A technician hired to analyze Young's computers for any photos of Hunter or her daughter testified Friday that it would take several weeks to examine every file. Scanning the millions of files on the computer turned up more than 90,000 references to "Rielle," he said, noting it could include the name repeated several times on numerous documents and Internet history.

"This proceeding has gotten awfully long," said Robert Elliot, an attorney for the Youngs.

Elliot complained that the Youngs have been cross-examined twice, while Hunter hasn't shown up for any of the court hearings in the case. She hasn't been asked to surrender any videos or photos of a similar nature that she might have, he said.

"It’s not about Rielle Hunter. Ms. Hunter didn’t disobey an order of this court," said her attorney, Alan Duncan.

Duncan said the court is "just overrun" with Andrew Young's misstatements about what items have been surrendered.

Young has said that he doesn't think the CD Duncan wants even exists, and he said he likely lost the USB drive during one of several moves his family made in recent years.

Jones came close during a Tuesday hearing to sending Andrew Young to jail for up to 75 days before he relented. He warned the Youngs on Friday that he could refer the matter to prosecutors if he finds they perjured themselves during the hearings.

"I hope to God you are telling the truth, because if it turns out wrong you are going to pay for it," Jones said.

Elliott said no perjury was committed by his clients.

"These are people who were in very confusing, disorganized, chaotic circumstances doing the best they could under a lot of pressure," he said.

Young was visibly relieved when he left the courtroom, adding that he was scared all day.

"We are looking forward to getting the merits of the case and getting this resolved," Young said.

The case will now go to trial.

"We never brought this lawsuit for the purpose of trying to put somebody in jail. This is a civil lawsuit in which we want our things back," Duncan said.

Hunter's attorneys asked Andrew Young if he could swear under oath his book, "The Politician" was true.

Young said he wrote it to the best of his recollection, but could not swear under oath because he was writing about a chaotic time.