GREENSBORO, N.C. — After years of investigation, denials and delays, jury selection began Thursday for the criminal trial of former presidential candidate John Edwards.
Mr. Edwards sat at the defense table as about 180 potential jurors filed into a Greensboro, N.C., courtroom. U.S. District Judge Catherine C. Eagles then asked Mr. Edwards to stand and face them. He grinned and nodded as the judge introduced him.
The trial had been scheduled to begin in late January but was delayed after Mr. Edwards‘ lawyers told the judge he had a serious heart problem that required treatment.
Mr. Edwards faces six criminal counts related to nearly $1 million in secret payments made by two campaign donors to help hide the married Democrat’s pregnant mistress as he sought the White House in 2008.
“This is not a case about whether Mr. Edwards was a good husband or politician,” the judge said from the bench. “It’s about whether he violated campaign finance laws … The Constitution says trial by jury, not trial by Internet or trial by gossip.”
Mr. Edwards‘ parents and eldest daughter sat in the court as Judge Eagles emphasized to the potential jurors their role in the upcoming trial and ordered them not to tell anyone, even their families, that they had been called for the Edwards case.
She also advised them to put out of their minds any media coverage they had seen and to ignore any legal dramas they might have seen on television, because such shows may mischaracterize the law or how a courtroom operates.
“You can watch ‘Law & Order,’ ‘Judge Judy,’ John Grisham; put it out of your mind,” Judge Eagles said. “I will tell you what the law is.”
The jurors were then ushered to other parts of the courthouse to fill out written questionnaires. Their answers will be used to begin the screening process, set to resume Monday. By the end of next week, the jury pool is to be winnowed to 12 jurors and at least four alternate jurors expected to attend each day of the proceedings.
Opening arguments are scheduled to begin April 22, and the trial is expected to last six weeks, though the judge warned it could go longer.