John Edwards, the former Democratic presidential candidate charged with campaign-finance violations, won court permission to use his former mistress’s lawyers at his criminal trial, set to start next month.
Prosecutors objected to the participation of the lawyers, Alan Duncan and Allison Van Laningham, saying there could be a conflict of interest should Edwards’s former paramour, filmmaker Rielle Hunter, be called as a witness.
U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles in Greensboro, North Carolina, today said she would allow Edwards to use the lawyers, while ruling that neither Van Laningham nor Duncan may cross-examine Hunter if she testifies. Hunter negotiated an immunity agreement during the federal investigation of Edwards.
Edwards, 58, is charged with breaking campaign-finance laws to conceal his relationship with Hunter during his 2008 run for president. Edwards, who was married at the time and fathered a child with Hunter, allegedly used more than $925,000 in contributions to hide the affair. Each of the six counts he faces carries a maximum five-year prison term and $250,000 fine.
The U.S. said the contributions came from multimillionaire heiress Rachel “Bunny” Mellon and Dallas-based trial lawyer Fred Baron, who died in October 2008. Elizabeth Edwards, the defendant’s wife, died in December 2010.
Hunter has acknowledged that as part of the former North Carolina senator’s effort to support her, she got benefits including medical care and living expenses, prosecutors said in court papers. If called as a witness, she may testify that she complained to Edwards when the benefits provided by Mellon and Baron weren’t enough, prosecutors said.
Hunter gave testimonial, documentary and physical evidence during the investigation, prosecutors said in court papers. The immunity agreement, which was reached early in the probe, covers only Hunter’s testimony, which cannot be used against her, Assistant U.S. Attorney Robert Higdon told Eagles today.
When Eagles asked if the government planned to charge Hunter, Higdon said, “I don’t know. She could be charged.”
Prosecutors gave the judge a copy of the agreement today at her request.
Van Laningham and Duncan represented Hunter in a lawsuit against a former Edwards aide, Andrew Young, over the return of personal property including an alleged sex video of her and the former presidential candidate. The lawyers filed to join Edwards’s trial team on March 5, six days after that case was resolved, prosecutors said.
Edwards testified briefly today, telling Eagles that he wished departing defense lawyer James Cooney well. Cooney asked to withdraw last week. Eagles approved that request today.
The case is U.S. v. Edwards, 1:11-cr-00161, U.S. District Court, Middle District of North Carolina (Greensboro).