By Joseph Tsidulko
By Patrick Range McDonald
By David Futch
By Hillel Aron
By Dennis Romero
By Jill Stewart
By Dennis Romero
By Dennis Romero
Edwards returned to life with projects that honored his son — at Wade’s high school, a memorial bench and sculpture shaped like the tail of a flaming comet; at the gravesite, a 10-foot-tall, 10-ton sculpture of an angel carved from Vermont marble by a noted artist. And across the street from the high school stands the Wade Edwards Learning Lab, with computer-assisted tutoring for any student who needs it.
As a friend tells it, the building had not been for sale when Edwards inquired about it. “I need this building,” he told the owner, who said it still wasn’t for sale. “You don’t understand,” said Edwards persistently. “I needthis building.”
Edwards and his wife also dealt with their loss by having two more children, the youngest, Jack, was born after Elizabeth Edwards had turned 50.
Edwards finally returned to work and won his two largest judgments ever, $25 million and $23 million, in the last two lawsuits he ever tried. Each tripled the state’s largest previous awards in contested cases for product liability and malpractice, respectively.
The case of Valerie Lakey had clear public-policy implications for the future senator. Valerie had nearly died at age 5 when caught in the suction of a pool drain. The accident tore out 80 percent of her small intestine and 50 percent of her large intestine. Valerie’s father, David, spearheaded a successful legislative drive requiring pools in North Carolina to have two drains, a safety feature that could have prevented the tragedy. In the trial, Edwards and Kirby uncovered a series of previous tragedies that had not spurred the company to remedy its product.
In 1997, little Valerie Lakey drew a
picture to thank attorney John Edwards,
who won a record judgment in her case.
Now 16, Valerie declined to have her picture
taken, offering instead this more recent
Valerie, now 16, faces a lifetime of expensive health challenges, but has emerged from her ongoing ordeal a smart, slightly sassy teen, with a waif-like attractiveness and a taste for goth.
“We think the world of John Edwards,” said Valerie’s mother, Sandy. “We think he’s extremely intelligent and articulate and would be an awesome president.”
Edwards’ final cases marked a turning point, said Kirby. “He was even better at representing these people, more connected to his clients, after the death of his son. He felt it. He could communicate to others what it is like to have this loss. But I think it was too painful from an emotional standpoint.
“We’re in the misery business,” added Kirby. “We deal with loss and injury here, in particular we represent a lot of children who are killed, brain-damaged, horribly burned. Having lost his own child, it became a very difficult, emotional struggle for John.”
When Edwards ran for the Senate in 1998, his Republican opposition salivated at taking on a “trial lawyer,” as they’re dismissively called in North Carolina. But Edwards fashioned himself the people’s lawyer, while also spending $6 million of his own fortune. As a senator, Edwards won admirers for his work defending against the impeachment of Bill Clinton. He also helped shape a patient “bill of rights” that failed to get through a Republican Congress.
But Edwards the president?
Retired editor Frank Daniels fielded the question over breakfast at Big Ed’s in Raleigh. “I thought Edwards was running for president too soon,” said Daniels. “On the other hand, when is it not too soon? I don’t know the answer to that, and I haven’t met anybody yet who does. I think Edwards combines judgment and common sense. And let’s face it, 98 percent of being president is picking good people and having the judgment to know what is going on. George Bush showed poor judgment.
“And I think Edwards understands that if you want to do anything for this country, you’ve got to represent somebody other than those folks who have money. I have some money. I believe in people trying to get some, but I also believe people have an opportunity to give as much as they can get, achieve whatever they can achieve. I think John Edwards advocates that far, far better than anybody who’s been running in recent times.”
But the peerless attorney also will be pressed to demonstrate, over time, that he’s doing more than arguing a case to get a win. And that the pursuit of this goal won’t gradually turn him into just another politician weaving together the right words to get elected. And that his clients truly are the voiceless and dispossessed.