John Edwards walks, disgraced

The odds are 11-1 the jury in the federal case in North Carolina trying John Edwards for campaign law violations will convict. There might be a holdout. That’s why I set odds at 11-1. Edwards has been portrayed as such a despicable human being — politician and husband — that the jury is likely to be unsympathetic to his legalistic defense.

But I also think that if there is a conviction, the odds are that there will be a reversal based on the trial judge's ruling yesterday. She kept out of the trial the testimony of a former chairman of the Federal Election Commission that in his opinion Edwards did NOT violate federal election laws by not declaring donations from admirers that went to shield his tawdry affair. The judge ruled that this testimony could not be heard by the jury because the witness might have based his testimony on facts the jury doesn’t have.

WRONG. The issue of admissibility of the evidence concerns not a legal question for the judge, but is matter of fact for the jury to consider, and to weigh the witness’s testimony. The jury need not agree with the witness, but the testimony should be heard. The testimony was crucial to the central issue in this case: Was Edwards correct not to view these questioned contributions as campaign contributions? If an expert agreed with Edwards, wouldn’t there be a sound basis to have a reasonable doubt about his guilt?

Of course, ALL money in a campaign is related somehow to the campaign; a haircut or physical training makes the candidate look and feel better, but they surely are personal expenses, not campaign funds. The question should be for the jury to decide, and expert conclusions like that of an experienced commissioner (37 years’ experience) should be weighed.

If Edwards is convicted, he will appeal, and I bet this error will reverse his conviction, if there is one.

Edwards’s lawyer is smart enough to argue to the jury and get an instruction from the judge that his client is not on trial for cheating on his wife and lying about it. We might not like John Edwards after hearing about his treatment of his dying wife, or his staff assistant, but that’s not what this jury is there to judge or condemn.

Sooner or later, a shamed Edwards walks.

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