Front pages and world news programs this morning proclaimed the end of the John Edwards trial, a federal campaign-finance corruption case that ended in a mistrial Thursday and an acquittal on one count. As The New York Times noted, Edwards “lost the trial of public opinion.” But he won legal vindication with the assistance of Wake Forest alumna Allison Overbay Van Laningham (’93 and JD ’96).
The former Hankins Scholar and current trial lawyer with Smith Moore Leatherwood in Greensboro joined the defense team earlier this spring. She will be remembered for her 45-minute opening statement in which she urged jurors to follow the money. “John Edwards is a man who committed many sins,” she told the jury, “but no crimes.”
The core dispute was whether former U.S. Sen. Edwards knowingly and willfully received illegal contributions from heiress Rachel Mellon and Fred Baron during his presidential campaign. The U.S. Justice Department alleged that the money was used to hide Edwards’ affair with his mistress and her resulting pregnancy so he could continue his campaign. The team of prosecutors also included a double Deac — Assistant U.S. Attorney Bobby Higdon Jr. (’85, JD ’89). Friday morning some jurors said on network talk shows that they believed Edwards was guilty on some counts but that the prosecution didn’t have enough evidence for convicting him.
The case has been called the biggest against an American trial lawyer since Clarence Darrow faced indictment a century ago.