State News

Judge in Edwards case to reconsider trial motions

Posted June 5, 2012 2:20 p.m. EDT
Updated June 5, 2012 2:50 p.m. EDT

— The judge overseeing the John Edwards case will reconsider a pair of defense motions on whether the government tried the case in the right venue and whether prosecutors gathered evidence improperly.

A jury acquitted the former Democratic presidential candidate last week on one felony count of receiving illegal campaign contributions as he sought the White House in 2008 but deadlocked on the remaining five counts. Federal officials are weighing whether to retry Edwards on the unresolved charges.

U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles ordered this week that the two sides prepare new briefs on whether two of the charges should be tried in a different federal court and whether prosecutors played an improper role in a civil lawsuit over ownership of a sex tape of Edwards and his mistress.

If the judge sides with the defense on the venue question, Edwards would be acquitted on two of the charges.

At issue is about $200,000 in cash, flights on private planes and luxury accommodations provided to Edwards' pregnant mistress by his campaign finance chairman, a wealthy Texas lawyer named Fred Baron.

The mistress, Rielle Hunter, was in hiding with Edwards' aide Andrew Young in Florida, Colorado and California when Baron provided the financial help in late 2007 and 2008, prompting questions from the defense team about venue.

Under federal law, some part of the alleged crime must have occurred in the federal judicial district where the charges are to be tried. In this case, that is the Middle District of North Carolina, which includes Edwards' home in Chapel Hill.

The first of the private jet flights provided by Baron took off from Raleigh-Durham International Airport, which is in the neighboring Eastern District of North Carolina. The rest of the money spent by Baron while Hunter and Young occurred in other states.

On two prior occasions, Eagles has denied motions from Edwards' lawyers to dismiss the two charges for being brought in the improper venue. Prosecutors have argued that phone calls during which the parties plotted the cover-up with Baron were made or received in Chapel Hill, which was enough to establish venue in the Middle District.

The second matter Eagles revived this week has to do with reams of documents Young provided prosecutors after Hunter sued him in state civil court over a sex tape involving Edwards and other personal items that Hunter had left in a rental home. The documents were ordered to be kept under seal by a state judge, including a lengthy deposition Edwards gave in the civil case, but federal investigators issued a subpoena for the secret files, which Young and his lawyers provided.

After earlier deferring a ruling, Eagles on Tuesday order prosecutors to file a brief on the issue by June 25.