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October 22, 2010 6:06 PM

Womble Carlyle Representing John Edwards in Sex Tape Dispute

Posted by Brian Baxter

UPDATE: 10/25/10, 3:30 p.m. Cooney tells The Am Law Daily that he came to represent Edwards because the two used to square off against one another in court back when Edwards was still practicing law.

Attorneys from Am Law 200 firm Womble Carlyle Sandridge & Rice have signed on to represent former North Carolina senator John Edwards in the tawdry mess surrounding the former presidential candidate.

James Cooney III, a litigation partner with Womble Carlyle in Charlotte, is the lead lawyer for Edwards in an invasion-of-privacy suit filed by Edwards's former mistress, Rielle Hunter, against ex-Edwards aide Andrew Young. (Edwards is not a party to the dispute, but has been subpoenaed as a witness.)

Hunter, who offered a detailed account of her relationship with Edwards to GQ in April, is suing Young to reclaim items allegedly taken from her during the 2008 presidential campaign. Among those items is a sex tape of Edwards and Hunter that Young claimed to have in his possession before turning it over to North Carolina authorities earlier this year.

Carl Fox, a judge on North Carolina's Superior Court, ruled on Thursday that depositions of Hunter must remain confidential. According to The Raleigh News & Observer, Fox warned lawyers in the case to keep any videotape interviews they have under wraps.

"Once this is out, it's out. There's not a whole lot for me to do," said Fox, cautioning attorneys that they'll be held in contempt for any leaks. "The next thing I know, someone's sitting on the television in front of Barbara Walters or somebody like that."

Cooney, who successfully represented a former lacrosse player at the center of the Duke rape case, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The affair with Hunter could potentially result in criminal charges being filed against Edwards. A federal grand jury in North Carolina is investigating payments made to Hunter by the Edwards campaign and its supporters, CNN reports. Edwards's criminal lawyer, Wade Smith of Raleigh's Tharrington Smith, told The Associated Press earlier this month that he's learned that several subpoenas have been issued. Smith emphasized that Edwards is innocent of any wrongdoing and said his client welcomed the scrutiny of federal prosecutors.

The underlying sex scandal first came to light more than two years ago when famed trial lawyer Fred Baron--Edwards's national campaign finance chairman--admitted he paid Hunter and Young for relocation expenses from North Carolina to California. The admission came after months of denials from the Edwards camp following an explosive report in the National Enquirer.

Before Baron died of blood cancer that October, he told sibling publication Texas Lawyer that he made the payments without telling Edwards or knowing that the one-time presidential candidate had an affair with Hunter. (A subsequent report by The New York Times stated that Baron played a larger role in covering up the affair than previously realized.)

Before entering public service, Edwards began his legal career as an associate at Nashville firm Dearborn & Ewing. He then settled in Raleigh, joining Tharrington Smith, where he rose to prominence as one of North Carolina's top trial lawyers. He started his own Raleigh shop, now called Kirby & Holt, in the early nineties. While at the firm, Edwards won a $25 million personal injury verdict against Sta-Rite Industries in 1997, one of the largest in the state's history.

In 2003 Edwards released a book called Four Trials, which focuses on cases from his legal career. Edwards reveals that his success in the Sta-Rite case coupled with the death of his son prompted him to pursue a career in public office. Since leaving the campaign trail, Edwards has worked as a consultant for New York-based investment firm Fortress Investment Group.

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