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Lawyer for John Edwards Hits Failed High-Profile Prosecutions, Seeks Accountability

Posted Jun 27, 2012 6:00 AM CDT
By Debra Cassens Weiss

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The lawyer who represented former Sen. John Edwards in his trial for campaign fraud says prosecutors need to be held accountable for bad judgments.

Jurors acquitted Edwards last month on one charge and deadlocked on five other counts. The Justice Department won't retry the case. Edwards' lead lawyer, Abbe Lowell of Chadbourne & Parke, criticizes the prosecution in a Washington Post opinion column. “With respect to former senator Edwards, the department spent more than three years and millions of dollars to invent a criminal theory of campaign-law violations to pursue someone who was basically trying to hide an extramarital affair,” Lowell wrote.

A second example of bad judgment, Lowell says, was the Justice Department decision to prosecute baseball star Roger Clemens, who was acquitted of perjury after a six-week trial. “Some might say the system ultimately worked because the Edwards and Clemens juries fixed the problem. But before the juries spoke, the government had wasted enormous resources that could have been directed toward serious crimes—not to mention the time, money and emotion spent by defendants and their families,” Lowell wrote.

Lowell suggests a couple ways to hold prosecutors accountable. One would be for the Justice Department’s inspector general to analyze failed cases, identifying why decisions were made and who made them, and how much is spent each year on questionable high-profile prosecutions.

Another remedy was part of the now-lapsed independent counsel law that provided for reimbursement of attorney fees in misguided prosecutions, Lowell says. Allowing defendants in failed cases to recover attorney fees would be fair to them and “provide real incentive for the government to think twice” before bringing the cases, he says.

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