This issue of whether Young's state court civil case conduct can be introduced at Edwards' federal criminal trial matters but, in and of itself, it's not a huge deal. As the government's lead lawyer David Harbach conceded during the recent court argument about the question, with or without the state court conduct evidence, Edwards' defense team has plenty of ways to attack Young's credibility. But here is why I think the judge's decision on Young could be an important sign of things to come, particularly how she might rule on major disputes that occur during the trial. Judge Eagles dealt Edwards a huge blow last October when she denied his motion to dismiss the indictment. Yet since then, Edwards has prevailed on every big argument between the sides she's had to settle: whether former FEC Commissioners would be barred from testifying that even if Edwards' orchestrated payments from political supporters to his mistress Rielle Hunter, it's not a federal election law violation; whether the trial would be postponed due to Edwards' health; and whether he could add Hunter's civil attorneys to his criminal defense team on the eve of trial.
On the Young issue, both sides have a credible position. If Eagles rules for Edwards again, I think it's a signal that -- having refused to make the case go away as Edwards desperately hoped -- she is going to give the defense a lot of latitude as Edwards seeks a "not guilty" verdict. But here's the rub: if Eagles gives the defense substantial leeway in terms of evidence and witnesses, and the jury still comes back with a verdict of "guilty", I wouldn't be surprised to see Eagles then impose on Edwards a very stiff sentence. Only time will tell.
For now, how Judge Eagles rules on the Andrew Young evidence motion may tell us a lot.
Hampton Dellinger is a graduate of Yale Law School, a former official with the Department of Justice, and an adjunct faculty member at Duke Law School. Click here to learn more about his background.