Raleigh’s Shanahan became go-to analyst for Edwards trial

mquillin@newsobserver.comMay 30, 2012 

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Instead of reporting every day to his job Kieran Shanahan (at left) is surrounded by the media outside the Federal courthouse in Greensboro, N.C. Wednesday May 30, 2012. Shanahan is the principal partner in the Shanahan Law Group, Shanahan has become a regular at the federal courthouse where the former U.S. senator and presidential candidate is on trial for alleged campaign finance law violations. Shanahan is one of a handful of attorneys the media have come to rely on for quick commentary on the case against Edwards, and he's the most ubiquitous.

CHUCK LIDDY — cliddy@newsobserver.com

— The one place Kieran Shanahan’s face has not been seen much since the start of the John Edwards trial is in his Raleigh law office.

Seems as though it’s been everywhere else, though: on NBC TV’s Today Show and Nightly News, on ABC’s Good Morning America, FOX News and The O’Reilly Factor. He’s been quoted in People magazine and the Boston Globe.

Instead of reporting every day to his job as a principal in the Shanahan Law Group, Shanahan became a regular at the federal courthouse where Edwards, the former Democratic U.S. senator and presidential candidate, was on trial for alleged campaign finance law violations.

Shanahan is one of a handful of attorneys the media came to rely on for quick commentary on the case against Edwards, and he was the most ubiquitous.

That’s partly because he’s well-informed about the case and partly because he gives his opinions for free.

“He’s in a unique position to comment,” says Andy Lancaster, marketing coordinator for the private law firm that Shanahan started after serving five years as a federal prosecutor. Shanahan is also a former member of the Raleigh City Council, where he served four terms.

Shanahan, 56, is a lifelong Republican who served as a delegate to the party’s national convention in 2004. He’s particularly proud of his appearances on the Fox network shows, but talks with anyone who asks.

While Shanahan has posted links to some of his television appearances through his Facebook and Twitter accounts, it’s been Lancaster’s job to archive clips of those media moments for a web page the firm will use to showcase Shanahan’s skills as a media commentator.

“It’s great exposure for the law firm,” Lancaster said.

What became a temporary full-time job for Shanahan started with a request from WRAL-TV, which had asked him to comment on federal cases in the past. Shortly after, Shanahan said, the Today Show asked for his help, and other media outlets followed.

Just as he would prepare for a legal case, Shanahan immersed himself in all things John Edwards. He read Andrew Young’s insider account of the Edwards’ political campaign and plowed through both of the memoirs by Edwards’ late wife, Elizabeth. He pored over all the legal filings at the courthouse.

He came to court, he said, at the start of the trial to get a feel for the proceedings: whether it would be possible to come and go while court was in session, how hard it would be to get a seat, the styles of the different lawyers. He planned to listen to opening arguments, then go back to work and return to Greensboro periodically for critical testimony and evidence.

Jury selection started in mid-April, and testimony on April 23. Since then, Shanahan said, “I’ve been here every day but one.”

He used the time driving to and from Greensboro to talk with clients and catch up on work as much as he can.

“The people in my office are taking bets on how many speeding tickets I’m going to get,” he said. So far, none.

Shanahan was so invested in the case that he changed months-old travel arrangements to meet family in Florida over Memorial Day weekend. He went down later and came back earlier so he wouldn’t miss anything.

He arrived at the courthouse about 9:30 a.m. most days, dressed in a suit and a colorful tie, and often was met on the sidewalk where the media camped out by a reporter and camera operator needing an early shot. He learned the schedules of the different stations and newspapers, and tried to accommodate them. When he needed a microphone, he clipped it himself to the lapel of his suit jacket. He learned to position himself just so before the camera and look toward it without staring directly into it.

During breaks in the proceedings, Shanahan was often met at the door of the courthouse by a wad of reporters asking for a summary of the previous hours’ testimony. He learned to consider what he could say before he walked out.

“I try to be accurate and careful,” he said, “and still be insightful.”

Rick Gall, news director at WRAL, said Shanahan got better at this as the case progressed.

“There are a lot of people who can answer questions in a knowledgeable way,” Gall said. “Being able to do it in a way that is succinct and interesting, that is a skill. And he has developed that skill.”

This is the first case Shanahan has watched as a spectator from gavel to gavel, he said, and it will change the way he tries cases. In the future, he said, he won’t let the behavior of other lawyers distract him, or even the mood of the judge.

“I think it will make me a better trial lawyer,” Shanahan said. “In a trial by jury, your audience is the jurors. That’s where you need to focus.”

Quillin: 919-829-8989

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