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John Edwards

What with all the money in Edwards’ own name from his legal career, not to mention the late Texas trial lawyer Fred Baron’s generosity in solving the housing needs of Edwards’ girlfriend, it wouldn’t seem necessary to use campaign or charitable funds for her benefit, too, but a U.S. attorney is said to be pursuing allegations along those lines. Hunter was paid $100,000 to do documentary filmmaking about the Edwards campaign, which gave the couple many opportunities to be close to each other. [New York Daily News, CBS News, Raleigh News & Observer] More: Althouse, Kaus.

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Edwards scandal updates

by Walter Olson on August 25, 2008

  • Those who saw only the earliest version of our Friday post on Lee Rohn, the Virgin Islands attorney whose name came up in National Enquirer coverage, will want to check out the updated version, which notes Rohn’s categorical denial of the Enquirer story’s veracity and other important additions. Commenters have been adding to the picture as well;
  • Ted must be feeling prescient regarding his speculations about an Edwards-contributor refund class action now that Warren Buffett has weighed in on the idea [Kaus]. And in fact the Edwards campaign does seem to be refunding some contributions in interesting ways, if one account pans out (bundlers! Thomas Girardi! John O’Quinn!) [DBKP, more, yet more]
  • Edwards moneyman and perennial Overlawyered mentionee Fred Baron will be at the Democratic convention in Denver, and there’s little chance his name will fade from the news right away since he’s been a key backer of Sen. Biden as well [Matthew Mosk, WaPo]

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Aficionados of the John Edwards-Rielle Hunter scandal may have noticed a new attorney’s name cropping up in news reports: Lee Rohn of the U.S. Virgin Islands. From the New York Daily News:

One day before Edwards went public with the affair, Hunter and 6-month-old daughter Frances were flown to the Virgin Islands on a chartered jet, the Enquirer reported.

The $50,000 trip was paid for by friends of Edwards. The newspaper also said she stayed at the oceanfront home of another Edwards’ pal, lawyer Lee Rohn.

(Larry McShane, “John Edwards promised Rielle Hunter they’d be together – report”, Aug. 20)(via ABA Journal)(Update: Rohn vehemently denies the Enquirer story as false, saying she neither hosted Hunter nor is close to Edwards; see below). Readers may be wondering: is Rohn yet another attorney whose doings are going to make irresistible copy for a site like this, much as with Edwards chum/Democratic moneyman/perennial Overlawyered mentionee Fred Baron? To which the answer would appear to be, “you bet”:

St. Croix attorney Lee Rohn has stirred up a chorus of criticism and complaints about her professional practices both inside and outside the courtroom.

Her most vocal critics have been opposing parties or counsel in lawsuits she has filed. They have alleged a wide spectrum of professional conduct violations.

Among Rohn’s frequent targets is Innovative Communication Corp., which runs the Virgin Islands’ local telephone provider and the islands’ newspaper, and whose lawyers say they’ve lost count of how many times she’s sued them. The company’s chairman, Jeffrey Prosser, has called in vain for Rohn’s disbarment, complaining of “intolerable” and “abusive” instances of “ethical misconduct” as well as “vitriolic” public attacks: “In some cases with us, she coerced her clients to sign documents that were knowingly false [and] ignored judge’s orders on limits of discovery inquiry during depositions,” he wrote.

In 2002, Rohn publicly blasted one of the islands’ two federal district judges, Thomas Moore, accusing him of inappropriate behavior, and Moore recused himself from some of her cases citing the antipathy. Subsequently, after she moved to demand Moore’s recusal from yet another of her cases, he refused, stating in his written ruling, “I believe attorney Rohn’s personal attack on one of the two sitting judges in this jurisdiction was nothing more than a calculated litigation tactic that would be labeled ‘judge shopping’ in most places.” Moore, who has sanctioned Rohn for insulting and profane language toward witnesses and court personnel, wrote in another case, in which the Caribbean Geoffrey Fieger “sought to compel testimony from all the federal judges in the territory”:

“Nothing Lee Rohn does surprises me anymore, although subpoenaing all the federal judges in the jurisdiction is a high point of ingenuity and creativity in attempting to manipulate the system,” Moore wrote.

“I do not believe, however, that an attorney should be allowed to use her calculated personal attack on a sitting judge as a technique to prevent that judge from presiding over any of her cases, especially in a small district with only two judges.”

A few weeks ago, it may be recalled, we looked at the question of lawyers’ public denunciations of judges and whether they do or should result in recusal by those judges. (Jason Robbins and Lee Williams, “From judges to opponents, Rohn has no shortage of harsh critics”, Virgin Islands Daily News, Mar. 29, 2004 — the newspaper, it bears repeating, and its parent company have been frequent targets of Rohn’s litigation, as in this libel case arising from her airport pot bust). Death by a Thousand Paper Cuts has more, including a picture of the Rohn villa.

The National Enquirer, which keeps breaking new developments in the story, is now reporting that “a team of six more lawyers have been involved in the coverup”. They can’t all be as interesting as Baron and Rohn, can they?

Update Fri. 8:20 p.m.: the Daily News reports Rohn categorically denies the story’s truth:

The Enquirer quoted Virgin Island pol Anne Golden as saying Hunter stayed for 10 days in an oceanfront home owned by prominent St. Croix lawyer Lee Rohn.

Rohn hotly denied that to the Daily News and vowed to sue.

“It is absolutely false,” she told The News. “The Enquirer knows the story is not true as they sat on a hill above my house for a week with telephoto lenses and video cameras and had no sighting of her. The guest cottage she was supposedly staying in is under construction and has no floor.”

Rohn said that while she donated money to Edwards, she is not friends with him. Records show she gave $2,300 to Edwards a year ago and another $2,300 to Barack Obama early this year.

(Helen Kennedy, “John’s island girl Rielle fled to St. Croix on eve of cheating flap”, Aug. 21). And — hat tip to commenter Ken Floyd — the opinions of heated Rohn critic Jeffrey Prosser, the newspaper/telephone magnate, should be evaluated in the perspective of his own controversial and colorful business record, which recently culminated in high-profile bankruptcy proceedings involving his Innovative Communication empire. Some sources on that here, here, here, and here. For more background on the recusal disputes involving Rohn and Judge Thomas K. Moore, see this Moore opinion (U.S. v. Roebuck, PDF) and this Third Circuit opinion (Selkridge v. Mutual of Omaha, 360 F. 3d 155). DBKP wishes it had been a fly on the wall during an AAJ award ceremony honoring Rohn. And see commenter #7 below who seems to have been doing considerable digging.

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August 19 roundup

by Walter Olson on August 19, 2008

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Thursday’s New York Times investigates Fred Baron’s role (Serge F. Kovaleski and Mike McIntyre, “Lawyers’ Ties Hint at Extent of Hiding Edwards’s Affair”, Aug. 14; AP/L.A. Times; commentary at Deceiver, Jeralyn Merritt/TalkLeft, Greg Pollowitz/NRO Media Blog, DBKP; earlier). And more from DBKP here and here. P.S. And I didn’t realize until reading USA Today’s profile that scandal figure Andrew Young has served not only as a loyal Edwards foot soldier, but also as a lobbyist for the North Carolina trial lawyers’ association.

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(Bumping Aug. 14 6:43 pm post to keep at the top of the page.)

In a post I made yesterday, I noted a transaction between Andrew Young and Timothy Toben that I suggested may raise the possibility of a sweetheart deal on the purchase and sale of a 5000-square-foot Raleigh home. I have since done some additional research that rules out that possibility–it turns out that Young purchased a plot of land in a different county, which explains what had otherwise appeared to be a discrepancy–but raises other interesting issues about Young’s cash flow shortly after the National Enquirer allegations first appeared. I have updated the post, and regret the error in the premise.

August 14 roundup

by Jason Barney on August 15, 2008

  • 47% of those polled believe traditional media should offer equal time to opposing viewpoints.  Although 57% polled say blog sites should not have to allow other viewpoints, 31% believe the government should “force” them to.  Can you believe that?  In a related story, help me in welcoming John Edwards as next week’s guest blogger.  (“47% Favor Government Mandated Political Balance on Radio, TV”, Rasmussen Reports, Aug. 14).
  • Speaking of John Edwards–is he the new Bill Clinton?  Some may think he’s the right person to carry on his legacy.  (“John Edwards is the new Clinton, Spitzer, Craig”, MiamiHerald.com, Aug. 13).
  • I thought the law was well-settled that you could say ignorant, mean and hurtful things (and, shame on those who do).  But, anyway the Oregon Supreme Court unanimously agreed.  (“Oregon court says racist, insulting speech is protected”, OregonLive.com, Aug. 14).
  • Also from Oregon–a young man’s family filed a wrongful death lawsuit in the police shooting death of their son.  “We were forced to go ahead and file this to shed light on the events of that night” his mother said.  Shed light?  So, what’s with the $14M demand?  And, what’s this about him threatening police with a knife? (“Tigard teen’s family sues for millions in fatal police shooting”, OregonLive.com, Aug. 13 & Sep. 17 ’06).
  • Let the plaintiff’s bar go to bat for you on this one–after a Utah school learned of a bat infestation it partnered with the county health department to exterminate them.  Meanwhile, the district made intercom announcements asking students who may have had contact with bats to seek assistance, and made voluntary payments to seven students for rabies vaccinations.  A student’s mother sues despite no evidence her son contracted rabies or suffered any other injury.  (“Lehi Mom sues Alpine School District over bats”, Deseret News, Jul. 17).

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Update: See important update below. The Toben-Young transaction appears to be for a different parcel of land than the $1.2 million house–but the new documents reveal something else that’s interesting. More details below.

Andrew Young, who publicly claims to be the father of Rielle Hunter’s baby (though he hasn’t been heard from since John Edwards’s confession of an affair), was moved to Santa Barbara by the generosity of John Edwards’s campaign chairman, trial lawyer Fred Baron. He was paid $3,500/month to work for the Edwards campaign. Yet the Raleigh News & Observer reports that Andrew Young and his wife sold their Raleigh house to Carolyn Grissom for a jaw-dropping $1.2 million on February 14, 2007, and moved into the Chapel Hill Governors Club country-club gated community, where they rented a few doors down from Hunter. (Rentals there are available for as low as $1700/month, and home prices range from $289,000 to $2.3 million, so nothing necessarily unusual about that.)

(Update: New documents I’ve found show that the Toben-Young transaction appears to be for a different parcel of land than the $1.2 million house. More details below. This paragraph, based on the mistaken reading of the transaction that it was for the Raleigh home, is incorrect. I regret the error, but the correction reveals something else interesting about the Toben transaction; see the discussion below.) What’s more unusual is that North Carolina real-estate records on the web show that Andrew and Cheri Young purchased the 5000-square-foot house for $300,000 on September 28, 2005. (Update: this is incorrect. The house was purchased in 2001.) (The home was built in 1989, so they weren’t buying a vacant lot and building.) So either Andrew Young is a secret real-estate genius on a level not seen since Hillary Clinton’s commodities trading, and was able to flip a house for a 300% and $900,000 return in under eighteen months, or something else is going on.

It’s interesting to note that the Youngs purchased the place from North Carolina real-estate developer Timothy Toben–a long-time North Carolina Democratic fundraiser who donated $6,500 to the Edwards campaign in 2007 (which, if the FEC reports are accurate, exceeds the federal campaign limits substantially). If Toben gave Young an unusually good deal, the 2005 timing suggests that Young got the deal for some reason other than Rielle Hunter, but, if so, what?

Meanwhile, if one looks up the home on Zillow.com, one sees that Zillow is skeptical of the $1.2 million purchase price, and values the house for substantially less (though well over $300,000), because of “anomalies” in the deal, though it does not specify what those anomalies are. (I found no indication that Carolyn Grissom is anything other than an innocent homebuyer; she’s not listed in the FEC database.)

This could all be coincidence in hindsight, and there could be a perfectly innocent explanation for all of this. It could be that the $300,000 figure is wrong, though then that raises the question of how Young was able to afford a 5000-square-foot house on a $42,000/year salary. But reporters with more resources than I might want to look into whether an Edwards staffer was getting a sweetheart deal from an Edwards contributor, why, and whether campaign finance laws were violated.

And welcome Michelle Malkin readers; apologies that so many of you clicked through that you briefly crashed the site. For Overlawyered’s coverage of the Rielle Hunter scandal, see the tag, and don’t miss our years-long coverage of John Edwards and his trial-lawyer record.

(August 14: Welcome Kaus and Instapundit readers. Post was corrected August 14, because it incorrectly said “Chapel Hill” instead of “Raleigh” as the location of the $1.2 million house.)

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Baron grants an interview to the Texas Lawyer, and makes some implausible claims:

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Per Marisa Guthrie at the magazine Broadcasting & Cable, ABC News was able to force John Edwards’ hand in part because it had been tracing the Fred Baron money trail (which, it will be recalled, Edwards supposedly had nothing to do with). “According to multiple sources, Edwards was apoplectic that ABC News broke the story on its website and began promoting it early on Friday” because the former North Carolina senator — who, y’know, was beating up on himself so bad and wanted nothing more than to come clean with the American people — “had hoped to control the news cycle by making his admission late on a Friday night when the country was watching the Olympics and the long weekend yawned ahead.” Earlier here and here.

Many commentators have questioned whether Edwards was telling the truth about when the affair ended. (Despite her family’s publicly expressed wishes for a paternity test, Rielle Hunter says she won’t allow one; whether this refusal is or is not related to her presumably ongoing financial dependence on Fred Baron’s largesse is not for us to know.) A second question is whether Edwards was telling the truth on ABC when he said he hired Hunter first for her filmmaking skills and began the relationship later, thus dodging charges of having put his mistress on the payroll. Sam Stein at Huffington Post examines chronologies here. Relatedly, Advice Goddess Amy Alkon has this to say about the L.A. Times’s straightfaced description of Hunter as a filmmaker: “Katie, honey, in this town [L.A.], we know to look at imdb.com to see if somebody actually is a filmmaker. This is a good dating tip for you, too, dear, because half the guys you’ll meet at the bar in this town are ‘producers.’”

More: Welcome Michelle Malkin readers.

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Yes, I’m being facetious

by Ted Frank on August 9, 2008

Where’s the trial lawyer bringing a class action on behalf of all of the people who were defrauded when they gave money to John Edwards’s presidential campaign?  It’s certainly a much more plausible claim of causation, reliance, and financial injury than the typical class action.

More seriously, I hope someone somewhere is investigating whether Fred Baron violated federal campaign finance law when he set aside tens of thousands of dollars to pay Rielle Hunter hush money without disclosing the payments on behalf of Edwards.  Edwards said he was in the Beverly Hilton to help keep the story from becoming public, which makes it seem unlikely he’s telling the truth when he said that he had no knowledge that Baron moved Hunter to California.  Alas, ABC didn’t ask the right follow-up questions, such as how Edwards thought meeting Hunter in a hotel room would help keep the story quiet.  And “Fred Baron” appears nowhere in the New York Times story, even as he is a major fund-raiser for Barack Obama today.  Obama is still running for president, right?

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We described the Dallas attorney as poster boy for legal ethics for his astoundingly brazen conduct in the scandal over an asbestos testimony-coaching memo. Now his name is hitting front pages on the John Edwards-Rielle Hunter affair:

Dallas lawyer Fred Baron told The Dallas Morning News today that he paid relocation and housing expenses for the woman that former presidential candidate John Edwards has confessed to having an affair with.

Mr. Baron, who was chairman of Mr. Edwards’ presidential campaign finance committee, said he paid money for Rielle Hunter to move from North Carolina to another location. …

He said Mr. Edwards did not know about the arrangement.

(Gromer Jeffers Jr., “Dallas lawyer Fred Baron paid for Edwards’ mistress to relocate”, Dallas Morning News, Aug. 8).

More coverage of Edwards’s (partial or otherwise) confession: ABC News, AP, Memeorandum, Marc Ambinder, Ben Smith/Politico, News & Observer, Just One Minute, Shaun Mullen/Moderate Voice. Readers will remember that Ted had the story very, very early, before it was much noticed even on the blogs (more). As for Edwards’s own credibility, Mickey Kaus, whose news judgment in pursuing the matter now stands vindicated, has this to say: “There is now one player in this scandal with far less credibility than the National Enquirer, after all.”

More: Byron York at NRO “Corner” quotes the Raleigh News & Observer account with Baron’s statement:

“I decided independently to help two friends and former colleagues rebuild their lives when harassment by supermarket tabloids made it impossible for them to conduct a normal life,” Baron, a Dallas trial lawyer said in a statement, Rob Christensen reports.

“John Edwards was not aware that assistance was provided to anyone involved in this matter,” Baron said. “I did it of my own voilition and without the knowledge, instruction, or suggestion of John Edwards or anyone else. The assistance was offered and accepted without condition.”

York points out:

Hunter and Young, the recipients of Baron’s generosity, were not high-ranking officials in the Edwards campaign. How Baron got to know them and how he decided to fund their move to California, and why he decided to do so without Edwards’ knowledge, might be the subject of more questions as the Edwards matter goes forward.

Blogger Gina Cobb hopes the window of Baron’s generosity is still open:

I am touched and moved by your generosity. I especially like the part about “The assistance was offered and accepted without condition.” Accordingly, I would like to request the same generosity from you. Henceforward, I would like you to rent me an enormous house and pay my living expenses in perpetuity. I can assure you that the assistance you offer will be accepted without condition.

And see Ted’s follow-up post.

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August 7 roundup

by Walter Olson on August 7, 2008

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Big-league Arkansas trial lawyer Tab Turner did it, and was fined $9,500. Big-league Michigan trial lawyer Geoffrey Fieger did it, and managed to beat the rap at his recent trial. And now we learn that big-league California trial lawyer Pierce O’Donnell did it too: evaded limits on campaign contributions to John Edwards by reimbursing underlings to enable them to contribute. Would it be simpler to compile a list of the big Edwards backers who did obey the law? (WSJ law blog, Jul. 24). More on Edwards campaign finance shenanigans here.

Update Jul. 25, NLJ: O’Donnell indicted, based on a separate episode of laundering of contributions (to Los Angeles mayoral campaign of James Hahn).

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.

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Fieger gets off

by Walter Olson on June 2, 2008

All those reimbursements of employees who donated to John Edwards? Just one vast coincidence, not a purposeful way of evading federal campaign finance laws. Now that the verdict’s in, could we please repeal the campaign finance laws in question ASAP, before some less lucky soul tries the same thing and gets sentenced to time in the slammer because his name isn’t Geoffrey Fieger and his lawyer isn’t Gerry Spence? (David Ashenfelter and Joe Swickard, “Fieger, law partner acquitted of illegal political donations”, Detroit Free Press, Jun. 2).

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For all the complaints about tort reformers supposedly relying upon urban legends to promote their cause, one more frequently sees trial lawyers promoting fictional versions of their victories. As Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama kowtow to John Edwards for his endorsement, it’s worth exploring the case on his record he refers to most frequently. Remarkably, not a single mainstream media organization has questioned Edwards’s self-serving version of the Valerie Lakey case. I correct this problem in today’s American:

Sta-Rite had already been putting warnings on its pool drain covers, and the 1993 case did nothing to change their product design or the warnings conveyed to buyers. The drain cover in the Lakey case was sold in February 1987 with a warning label; soon thereafter Sta-Rite began embossing the warnings on the cover. This safety innovation was used against them at trial, the argument being that they should have acted earlier. But no one could reasonably think that an additional warning to screw in the drain cover would have made an iota of difference. The cover already had holes for screws, county regulations already required the pool drain cover to be screwed down, the pool managers testified that they had done so several times in the year before Lakey’s accident—and Edwards had already recovered millions from the municipality for its failure to keep the cover screwed down.

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The government accuses Mel Weiss of withholding a fax responsive to a subpoena that would have corroborated Hillel Cooperman’s claims of kickbacks hidden as options to purchase art. From the National Law Journal ($):

Prosecutors claim that Bershad, in response to the government’s 2002 subpoena, called Weiss to his office after discovering the fax and other documents in his desk drawer. “Weiss took them from Bershad, falsely stating, ‘David, you had nothing to do with the art option,’” prosecutors claimed in their recent motion. “Weiss then put the documents in his safe, concealing them from Milberg Weiss’ document custodian who was searching for documents responsive to the subpoena.”

Weiss then allegedly locked the documents in his safe. David Bershad has pled guilty, and is presumably the source for this conversation. Given the role of fundraising the law firm plays in Democratic politics (including for the two leading contenders for the Democratic nomination, Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama, and for John Edwards), one wonders why the only coverage of the ongoing scandal is in for-subscription legal papers. We have uploaded the government’s brief in opposition to Milberg Weiss’s motion to dismiss the obstruction-of-justice charge:

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