Edwards wins right to pick legal team

March 15, 2012 1:13:04 PM PDT
A federal judge ruled Thursday that former North Carolina Sen. John Edwards can pick the lawyers he wants ahead of his trial on campaign finance charges.

Prosecutors had said there could be problems if Edwards was allowed to hire the same lawyers who represented his mistress in a lawsuit over the couple's alleged sex tape. They suggested lawyers Alan Duncan and Allison Van Laningham could use insider knowledge of Edwards' mistress Rielle Hunter at the former presidential candidate's trial beginning next month.

Duncan and Van Laningham represented Hunter in a lawsuit that ended last month with a settlement that ordered all copies of the tape destroyed.

Federal prosecutors have said they'll likely call Hunter as a witness at Edwards' trial on campaign finance charges that he used nearly $1 million from two wealthy donors to hide the pregnant Hunter as he sought the White House in 2008. He has pleaded not guilty.

"To whom would Mr. Duncan's and Ms. Van Laningham's allegiance lie? Their new client or the one they represented as recently as two weeks ago in a lawsuit seeking to enforce those very privacy rights?" federal prosecutors said in a court filing last week.

Because of their previous attorney-client relationship with Hunter, Duncan and Van Laningham might take it easy on her if they were questioning Hunter under oath, prosecutors said.

But in her ruling Thursday, U.S. District Court Judge Catherine C. Eagles said she'll allow Duncan and Van Laningham to represent Edwards. They just won't be allowed to cross-examine Hunter if she testifies.

Edwards was present for Thursday's hearing and answered Eagles' questions.

Edwards' defense team has seen significant turnover since he was arrested in June.

Former White House Counsel Gregory Craig and former Associate White House Counsel Cliff Sloan, who began representing Edwards in March 2010, resigned in August.

Veteran Raleigh defense lawyer Wade Smith withdrew in October after federal prosecutors suggested he had a conflict of interest because he might be called to testify about a 2009 conversation he had with a financial adviser for Bunny Mellon. The 101-year-old socialite provided much of the money used to support Hunter.

Defense attorney Jim Cooney has also said he's leaving as of this week.

Abbe Lowell remains as lead defense attorney.

Federal prosecutors previously alleged that Lowell had a potential conflict of interests because he had previously represented Fred Baron, the Edwards campaign finance chairman who provided much of the cash used to care for Hunter. Baron has since died, but Lowell had also represented his wife, Lisa Blue, last year before a grand jury investigating Edwards.

Judge Eagles ruled that Lowell could stay on the defense team with the restriction he doesn't cross-examine his former client if Blue is called to the witness stand.

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