HILLSBOROUGH, N.C. — During the latest episode of the battle over a sex tape showing ex-presidential candidate John Edwards being less than presidential, Judge Carl Fox stopped with a quizzical look.
Rielle Hunter, a campaign videographer with whom Edwards had an extramarital affair and a child, claims the tape is hers and wants it back from Andrew Young, the former Edwards aide who wrote a tell-all book about the politician's quest for the White House.
At a hearing in Orange County Superior Court on Wednesday, lawyers for Young argued that Hunter had no claim to it. They contended the video belonged to the Edwards campaign or his political action committee.
"What possible purpose would a campaign want - or desire for - a sex tape of a candidate involved in a sex act?" Fox asked rhetorically.
The four-hour hearing over which Fox presided was another immersion in the tawdry and greedy side of politics. The fight is not just about the ownership of the sex tape and other items. The lawyers squabbled about potential profits from the tape, which currently is locked away in the custody of the court.
They argued about the many inconsistent stories swirling around Young, Edwards and Hunter, who was hired by the Edwards campaign to shoot candid video of the candidate.
Young spent much of the first half of the year on TV talk shows and radio programs promoting "The Politician," his insider account of Edwards' 2008 campaign and scandalous affair with Hunter. In interviews and court documents, Young has claimed he found the tape amid trash Hunter left behind at a home he was renting.
Hunter, who started her legal battle against Young months ago, worked for Edwards' political action committee in 2006, shooting behind-the-scenes video as he prepared to launch his second campaign for the White House. The committee paid Midline Productions Comp any, her video production firm, $100,000 that year and then another $14,000 in what a senior campaign official described as a payment for leftover footage.
Lawyers for Hunter claimed Wednesday that Young removed the tape surreptitiously from the fur-lined hat box where she kept her passport, childhood photographs and other personal items. Also in the box, according to Hunter's lawyers, was video the campaign had rejected.
"The campaign did not want some tapes that would upset Elizabeth Edwards," said Wade Barber, the lawyer from Pittsboro on Hunter's legal team. Hunter "was directed to keep those."
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