John Edwards. ()
John Edwards is back in the courtroom. Yes, that John Edwards. Six years ago the former U.S. senator from North Carolina destroyed his once-promising political career with a tawdry infidelity scandal. His problems continued in 2011, when the U.S. Department of Justice prosecuted him for alleged felony election law violations connected to that scandal, but Edwards defeated the charges in court.
Last October, Edwards, now 61, reactivated his law license in North Carolina and returned to his roots as a trial lawyer. He is practicing in Raleigh with his friend David Kirby at six-lawyer Edwards Kirby. His daughter Cate, who graduated from Harvard Law School in 2009, is an attorney in the firm’s Washington, D.C., office.
Earlier this year, Edwards helped try a medical malpractice case for Kaiden Gaymon, a 4-year-old boy badly injured in 2009 by oxygen deprivation soon after he was born. Three weeks into a state court trial in Greenville, N.C., Vidant Medical Center agreed to pay $13 million to settle.
Edwards spoke with The American Lawyer’s Susan Beck in June. (The interview was edited for length.)
The American Lawyer: Tell us about your role in the Kaiden Gayman case.
Edwards: The case had been going on for three-plus years, and I got involved a few days before trial. The case was prepared by Robert Zaytoun, an old friend. He thought it best for the client for me to be involved. I do want to emphasize it was a team thing—me, Robert and his associate Matt Ballew.
They prepared the case, and my job was to bring it home and close it. I selected the jury and did the closing. I put on a number of experts, and cross-examined a lot of experts for the defense. But we all participated.
TAL: Were you concerned that you might have some credibility issues with the jury? Did you say anything about your past problems to the jurors?
Edwards: I did raise it in jury selection. I was fairly direct about it. I said, you may know me from the news media and politics. The question is, does it matter to you? The bottom line is, whatever you know about me, do you understand this case is about this little boy?
TAL: What else are you working on?
Edwards: A huge variety of things, for me and the firm. Cate handled a race discrimination case for a Department of Justice lawyer, and she got a great result. [The case, brought by federal prosecutor Joshua Nesbitt, settled in May for $225,000.] We have some class actions. We have a case in New York against BP for alleged price fixing. [Edwards says he has cases across the country, including in Washington state, Oregon and New York.] That’s a change from the old days, when my practice was just in North Carolina.
TAL: Did you run into any problems getting your law license reactivated?
Edwards: [The North Carolina State Bar] was very straightforward. I had a very good record with the bar before I went into politics. The only thing that happened was this legal case [brought by the Justice Department], and we won that.
TAL: Can you comment on your financial situation?
Edwards: I’m doing fine, and my firm is doing great.
TAL: Do you expect your firm to expand?
Edwards: The workload is already overwhelming. It will grow. Cate is moving to California with her husband, who is training to be a surgeon. I could easily see us opening an office on the West Coast.
TAL: Do you miss politics?
Edwards: I think I missed being in the courtroom more than I missed politics. I still pay attention to politics and to international issues, but I love what I’m doing.