Website offers view of exhibits in Edwards trial

Judge orders clerks to publish trial exhibits on a public website

ablythe@newsobserver.comApril 29, 2012 

— With only 60-some seats available in the federal courtroom where John Edwards is on trial, it is wise to get to the downtown courthouse early to get a firsthand view of the case that has drawn national interest.

Truckloads of media are in town, with big-name TV personalities, columnists, producers, outside camera crews, note-runners, sketch artists, all angling for the best spots in a stately but small courtroom with wide, wooden pillars that can obstruct views.

The media and others all pile into a line as soon as the doors open.

Those who are shut out are not necessarily left out of this trial. They can get an insider’s view of exhibits being discussed.

In an unusual move, Judge Catherine Eagles has asked the clerks to post exhibits already published to the jury on a public website. Visit it at: www.ncmd.uscourts.gov/trial-information-usa-v-johnny-reid-edwards

On the website are transcripts of voice mail that Andrew Young, the prosecution’s lead witness, saved from Edwards, the 2008 Democratic hopeful for president.

On Dec. 14, 2007, at 8:19 a.m., Edwards left the following message for Young: “Andrew, it’s John. It’s, uh, 8:15, 8:18. I’m calling you on Kornblau’s phone, but I can talk right now if you can call right back. Uh, if not, then we will have to talk later. But I’m gonna leave you this message just in case you get a call from me where I ask you what’s goin’ on. It’s, the, the reason we’re calling is because Elizabeth’s standing there. So, just be aware of that. Uh, if that’s, if I’m calling saying what happened, how did this happen, what’s goin’ on, then that’s because Elizabeth’s standing there with me. ‘Cause I have to, I think I’ve gotta tell her about this because it’s moving. Thanks.”

There is a transcript of another voice mail Young received from Rielle Hunter, the campaign videographer with whom Edwards had an affair and a child. Eleven days before the birth of Frances Quinn, the now-4-year-old daughter of Edwards and Hunter, the pregnant mistress left a voice mail for Young. It was recorded on Feb. 17, 2008, at 8:05 p.m.

“They have footage of it on ABC World News Tonight, Obama leaving the house shaking his hand, um, and Elizabeth, and, and, Johnny and Elizabeth couldn’t be further apart from each other (laughter). I mean, on either side, like, of the driveway. So, so, yeah, interesting. Okay. Fly safe. Bye.”

One exhibit is a transcript of a voice mail message that the late Fred Baron, the wealthy Texas lawyer who provided hundreds of thousands of dollars to Hunter and Young, left in August 2008, just two months before his death. It was shortly before Young and Edwards had their last face-to-face encounter, the roadside meeting where Young said the former presidential candidate turned to him and said: “You can’t hurt me, Andrew. You can’t hurt me.”

At 9:46 p.m. on Aug. 16, 2008, after the National Enquirer photographed Edwards at a Beverly Hills hotel visiting Hunter and their child, Baron left a voice mail for Young.

“Andrew, it’s Fred. Uh, I just had a conversation and I want to pass it on to you. Uh, we are now all convinced that our cell phones are being monitored, and uh, we have evidence so the communication between you and our friends, uh, is being, uh, hit by the other side and that’s the reason why there hasn’t been any, uh, uh, discussion between the two of you. And so, uh, we wanna alert you to that. We have now decided we are not gonna use cell phones for a while. ...But uh, cell phone communication is now over for those of us who (laughter) are working on this project...”

The website also includes photos of the posh resorts and homes that Hunter, Young, his wife and children stayed in on their cross-country odyssey, trying to outrun the National Enquirer, which broke the story and shattered the image of Edwards as a family man.

Perusers of the court Web page can see Rachel “Bunny” Mellon and the Baron, the supporters who provided more than $900,000 in a scheme that gives a peek behind the curtains of the upper side of Edwards’ “two Americas.”

Not a full picture

While the posted exhibits give a glimpse of what went on behind the scenes of an unsuccessful presidential campaign four years ago, they do not offer a full picture of the public happenings of the courtroom today.

Absent are the questions and testimony that provide context for the exhibits.

What the Web page won’t show are the nine men and seven women who make up the jury of 12 and four alternates taking notes, sipping from their water bottles or leaning back in their chairs, eyes occasionally closed, as the afternoon wears on in a trial with a tawdry soap opera flair.

Only those inside the courtroom get to hear Eagles, a 53-year-old Obama appointee, telling the lawyers or witness to slow down or hurry up. They are the ones who get to see the judge peer through her glasses at defense attorney Abbe Lowell, a prominent attorney from Washington, D.C. with a rapid-fire speaking style, or Young, an obstinate witness, and ask in her drawl whether they said “did” or “did not,” an important distinction in a trial. “You sometimes drop your nots,” Eagles has told Lowell on more than one occasion.

Those on the outside miss Lowell turning to his wife on one of the afternoons she was in the courtroom gallery and motioning for her to cover the ears of their 10-year-old daughter as he read a crude email exchange from the government’s lead witness.

While the Web exhibits do offer a glimpse of Edwards, the candidate and former poverty crusader in the throes of an extramarital affair, they won’t show the defendant at the wooden table whispering to his lawyers, taking notes, leaning in close to see the exhibits, conferring with his 30-year-old daughter Cate, a Harvard-educated lawyer, or walking into and out of the courtroom, only occasionally offering a smile as the sketch artists ask him to stop and pose.

To see all that requires a seat in the gallery and a good spot in line for a trial that, all salacious details aside, could test the limits of federal campaign finance law.

Blythe: 919-836-4948

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