NC judge orders documents released in Edwards case

AP News
Posted: Apr 29, 2011 5:11 PM
NC judge orders documents released in Edwards case

Former presidential candidate John Edwards will again be asked a series of questions he earlier refused to answer under oath, this time with a judge on hand to immediately rule what's fair or foul in the privacy lawsuit filed by his mistress.

The closed-door resumption of Edwards' deposition with Superior Court Judge Carl Fox present was reminiscent of another Southern politician forced to deal with questions about his sexual past: President Bill Clinton's deposition during the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

After a hearing Friday, Fox delayed a decision on whether all or parts of Edwards' deposition would be made public until the former North Carolina senator faces the additional questioning June 20.

"I'm a firm believer and have been for the entirety of my career of providing the press access, and the people access, to the courtroom. I recognize there are times when access may be limited for certain types of proceedings and certain types of testimony under specific conditions," Fox said after initially indicating he thought Edwards should face questions in public. "But generally speaking, to avoid suspicion and questions about the integrity of the court, it's important that they be open."

Edwards is the star witness in a privacy lawsuit his mistress Rielle Hunter filed against former Edwards campaign aide Andrew Young. Hunter contends Young improperly took from her sensitive materials, including a reputed sex tape showing Edwards. She wants the items returned to her.

Young said Hunter left them behind after leaving a hideout they shared while covering up Edwards' affair during the 2008 presidential campaign. Hunter said in an affidavit that she created a private video in September 2006.

The deposition taken from Edwards in February involved the former senator's testimony about "a relationship that led to the generation of those materials and the facts surrounding those materials," said his attorney, Jim Cooney.

The judge unsealed a pair of documents showing Edwards' attorney asked Fox to block further questioning by Young's lawyers that "unreasonably annoy, embarrass, or oppress" the former senator.

Fox said he would decide after Edwards' deposition whether to make public other filings in the case.

Media outlets including The Associated Press had asked Fox to open the case to more public scrutiny, including some details of Edwards' deposition. A judge had ordered all involved in the lawsuit to keep Edwards' testimony private.

The media outlets were not seeking access to the videotape.

Hunter and Young had been able to fight their court battle in privacy far greater than allowed the average person, said Nathan Siegel, an attorney for the media outlets.

"Motion after motion has been filed under seal. We think it's time to step back," Siegel said. "This isn't just an ordinary privacy case. ... This case is about the fallout from the demise of a presidential campaign."

Hunter's attorney said whether she was considered a public figure or private person, the former Edwards campaign videographer still had a right to privacy that she was trying to reclaim through her lawsuit against Young and his wife. Making too many details of Hunter's dispute with the Youngs public before presenting them to a jury would further violate her privacy, attorney Allison Van Laningham said.

"This material, as your honor rightly said at the last hearing, should not be grist for the media mill. It should not be used for a commercial enterprise," Van Laningham, referring to Andrew Young's tell-all book of his time in the Edwards camp and a rumored movie deal.

Siegel said that after Hunter's revealing interview and photos in GQ magazine a year ago and a follow-up appearance on Oprah Winfrey's show, it's hard for Hunter to argue the lawsuit is a simple privacy dispute.

"This case is about as ordinary a privacy case as you could say the wedding that just took place across the Atlantic is a typical family gathering," he said, referring to the British royal wedding that took place hours earlier.

At the time of his affair in 2006, Edwards was a candidate for president, and there are few people who have less expectation of privacy.

"This should be grist for the media mill," Siegel said. "This a case that involves legitimate questions of public interest and acts and events in which all these people voluntarily took place and have talked about extensively."