Chadbourne & Parke partner Abbe Lowell has been in demand lately, so much so that a judge in former presidential candidate John Edwards' criminal case may hold a hearing to ensure Lowell can represent Edwards conflict-free.
Edwards, a Democrat, is facing a six-count federal indictment. Justice Department prosecutors say that he received more than $900,000 in illegal campaign contributions from two wealthy donors, including the late Dallas plaintiffs’ lawyer Fred Baron.
While the case was under investigation, Lowell represented Baron’s widow, Lisa Blue, and Edwards’ former campaign pollster, Harrison Hickman. But two months ago, after it became clear the case is likely headed to trial, Edwards hired Lowell as his lead attorney. That creates potential conflicts of interest because prosecutors may call Blue and Hickman as witnesses, according to a new court motion from prosecutors asking for a hearing.
Moreover, while representing Blue and Hickman, Lowell contacted Edwards’ mistress, Rielle Hunter, to gather information about the case.
The potential conflicts may not be a problem. Blue, Hickman and Edwards are all OK with Lowell representing Edwards, and Lowell “is not in possession of any client confidences of Ms. Blue or Mr. Hickman,” according to the prosecutors’ motion. But it’s still something that U.S. District Judge Catherine Eagles should hold a hearing on, the prosecutors wrote.
“The government emphasizes at the outset that we are in no way suggesting that Mr. Lowell has engaged in any improper conduct. Nevertheless, his prior representation of Ms. Blue and Mr. Hickman presents distinct possibilities of potential conflicts that, in the government’s view, necessitate this court’s inquiry at a hearing and, potentially, proper advisement of the defendant, to ensure that any proffered waiver is knowing, intelligent, and voluntary,” says the motion (PDF).
David Harbach II of the Justice Department’s Public Integrity Section signed the motion. It was first reported by ABC News.
The motion cites two examples from within the 4th Circuit, which includes North Carolina, of attorneys being disqualified from cases in which they earlier represented witnesses, notwithstanding the defendants having waived the issue. Prosecutors write that Edwards’ case is different from those two because Blue and Hickman are less-important witnesses. “We bring these cases to the court’s attention only to emphasize the importance of this type of potential conflict,” they say.
Lowell, in an e-mailed statement, said: “We have discussed this issue with the government to its satisfaction; its inquiry to make a record is appropriate; and we will respond in a court filing.”