John Edwards, Rielle Hunter, and Elizabeth Edwards

by Ted Frank on July 22, 2008

I have no idea if the allegations that former presidential candidate John Edwards has a love-child with Rielle Hunter are true–though his actions seem pretty damning.

But let me be the first to point out that, if the allegations are true, Elizabeth Edwards can take advantage of North Carolina’s unusual tort law to sue Hunter for alienation of affection. When we last looked at the state of affairs in North Carolina in 2006, there were 200 such suits a year, with some verdicts in the six and seven digits. Of course, Mrs. Edwards would need a trial lawyer willing to take on her husband first.

Efforts to abolish the tort in the state have not been successful, though it is worth noting the fact that several dozen states have abolished heartbalm statutes without anyone suggesting that this tort reform is constitutionally problematic.

Update: Edwards persuades me that the story might be true when he gives a lawyerly non-denial denial filled with negative pregnants: “That’s tabloid trash. They’re full of lies. I’m here to talk about helping people.”  Someone needs to ask a more targeted question of a purported candidate for vice president or attorney general.

{ 3 trackbacks }

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{ 28 comments }

1 Eric Turkewitz 07.22.08 at 8:32 pm

Ted:

OK, you got me to click on the link. But really, the National Enquirer?

2 Leo 07.22.08 at 8:49 pm

The National Enquirer get sued a lot. They don’t generally published things they can’t back up. I trust them more than the NYT.

3 Drew Drytellar 07.22.08 at 10:01 pm

I mean, c’mon. Seriously? How would you respond if some site you didn’t agree with used the National Enquirer as a source? This is just plain low.

4 Ted Frank 07.22.08 at 11:08 pm

I’m very skeptical of the National Enquirer when they quote an anonymous source who claims to be a friend of the target.

I’m more likely to believe the National Enquirer when they make a falsifiable claim like “Our reporter saw John Edwards sneaking into the Beverly Hilton and fleeing into a restroom when he was confronted by a reporter when Edwards tried to sneak out at 2:40 AM.” They don’t have a record of making up stuff like that. Doesn’t mean that there isn’t a harmless explanation, but that’s pretty strong circumstantial evidence.

5 Eric Turkewitz 07.22.08 at 11:29 pm

I’m very skeptical of the National Enquirer when they quote …
I’m more likely to believe the National Enquirer when they make a falsifiable claim like …
They don’t have a record of …

So one of the nation’s foremost tort “reformers” is a connoisseur of the National Enquirer.

Who’d a thunk it?

6 kimsch 07.22.08 at 11:59 pm

Didn’t the National Enquirer break the Reverend Jesse Jackson mistress/love child story?

7 Ted Frank 07.23.08 at 12:05 am

Eric, like any aspiring Jeopardy contestant (wish me luck in auditions next week), I’m a renaissance man. Je tout connais.

“The irony is that the press that had the most significant and relevant and tangible evidence [of the OJ Simpson case] turned out to be the National Enquirer.” — Charles Ogletree

Kimsch, they did break the Jesse Jackson story, as well as Hugh Rodham’s role in the Clinton pardon scandal.

8 Bumper 07.23.08 at 12:33 am

Now that Drudge has links to it the story must be true.

9 Bill Poser 07.23.08 at 1:21 am

“Je tout connais.”

Uh, not French grammar.

10 Bill Poser 07.23.08 at 1:32 am

I’m curious about the elements of alienation of affection. For the plaintiff to prevail, is it necessary to show that the third party intended to alienate the affection of the spouse? Suppose, hypothetically, that Rielle claims that Edwards seduced her and that she would not have approached him had he not come onto her. Suppose that there is evidence to support this: credible witnesses testify that Edwards told them prior to the events in question that he wanted to sleep with Rielle; credible witnesses testify that he was coming onto her in the hotel bar and that she was quite drunk; hotel staff testify that they saw her in Edwards’ room. Hotel records show that Edwards ordered fancy food and a lot of liquor from room service. Is this a defense, or is intent to alienate affection irrelevant?

11 Jim Treacher 07.23.08 at 2:35 am

They also broke the Rush Limbaugh Oxycontin story.

12 Ted Frank 07.23.08 at 8:08 am

Uh, not French grammar.

Yes, that’s the joke. Which perhaps only I found funny, but I can’t be caught speaking flawless French around my current employer. (That’s also a joke. I often forget that my deadpan doesn’t work over the Internet.)

@11, all that is required in North Carolina is that the defendant’s actions be “a contributing factor that caused plaintiff’s spouse to alienate his or her affections from plaintiff” and that the defendant be aware of this likely consequence. There’s no requirement that the defendant be the instigator, which is one reason the tort is so appalling.

13 Allan 07.23.08 at 8:24 am

Let’s see we have the Times front page story on McCain’s relationship with a lobbyist that failed to prove anything.

I’d say the Enquirer has done a better job with this story than the Times did with its McCain piece.

14 Allan 07.23.08 at 8:26 am

As for the North Carolina tort of “Alienation of Affections”, Mrs Edwards would have to prove some tortious action took place in the State of North Carolina. Since Hunter is a California resident, jurisdiction by the State of North Carolina would be very difficult.

15 Todd Rogers 07.23.08 at 9:01 am

They also broke the story/image of Satan’s face being hugely visible in the dust of the collapsing twin towers on 9/11.

16 Ted Frank 07.23.08 at 9:18 am

Todd, you’re confusing the Enquirer with the Weekly World News.

17 Jim Treacher 07.23.08 at 10:57 am

Allan, would moving Hunter to a gated community just a few miles from Edwards HQ count?

18 Bumper 07.23.08 at 11:12 am

I am sure that in the tradition of his previous courtroom appearances, Mr. Edwards will assert that he was merely “channeling” Ms. Hunter.

19 AMcA 07.23.08 at 11:22 am

With the level of detail in the story, I’d say the Enquirer must have this thing totally covered. Just read through the story, and there’s a list of witnesses (some wishing anonymity) to prove each and every thing said.

From the perspective of a trial lawyer (me, not Edwards!), this is EXCELLENT reporting. It’s facts, facts, facts, where the “respectable” press likes to present conclusions, conclusions, conclusions.

Bless the Enquirer. These people know how to prove a story.

20 Bill Poser 07.23.08 at 1:23 pm

Yes, that’s the joke. Which perhaps only I found funny, but I can’t be caught speaking flawless French around my current employer. (That’s also a joke. I often forget that my deadpan doesn’t work over the Internet.)

I have the same problem, even in person. It seems that my notion of what is ridiculous is sufficiently different from most other people’s that other people misjudge whether I am being serious. Other people sure are eccentric. :)

21 NickM 07.23.08 at 1:23 pm

Under North Carolina law, would this cause of action abate upon the death of Elizabeth Edwards?

22 chris 07.23.08 at 3:05 pm

These suits are about proving some sort of financial loss, for example, if they owned a business together.

23 Ted Frank 07.23.08 at 4:14 pm

@23/Chris, that simply is not true, as even a cursory perusal of our previous coverage of heartbalm suits demonstrates.

24 Todd Rogers 07.24.08 at 12:01 am

Kudos to Rush…he did an exceptional and balanced job on this story today (IMO). All that is left is Edwards’ account of “I did not have sex with that woman…”

25 charley varrick 08.03.08 at 12:25 pm

I believe Edwards is guilty and I also believe the Clinton’s had their buddy who owns the NE out Edwards as pay back. But here’s who I think tipped the NE off that Edwards was at the hotel…..Lisa Druck aka Rielle Hunter. Look it, I bet she tipped off the NE that he was coming and then pocketed perhaps $50K. She’s a well known person of ill repute which is why she changed her name. You know she wants money. Fess up John Boy, you cheated on your dying wife. Now that’s sad. Say good bye to your VP nod too.

26 Connie Bryson 08.03.08 at 6:46 pm

There are so many celebrity sex scandals today, there is a real need for an authoritative, legally savvy website devoted to the phenomenon.

Why don’t you create one? You could call it “Torts ‘n’ Tarts”.

27 Drew Drytellar 08.08.08 at 10:55 pm

You’ll see a comment from me above criticizing you for using the National Enquirer as a source. Well, the egg is on my face now. You were right, I was wrong. I hope to be as skeptical in my posting in the future–just now I think I should direct that skepticism towards myself.
Apologies,
Drew

28 Gypsy Man 08.10.08 at 2:22 am

Even in admitting his affair, Edwards couldn’t help but lie when he said he did not father the child. Not WRIGHT for America calls it “lying about lying”, appropriate! http://www.notwrightforamerica.com

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