John Edwards might have begun his public redemption in the center office with the view of City Hall. Or, perhaps, in the larger office down the hall, on the 19th floor of the nondescript office building at 225 Broadway.
“We had bank loans lined up,” said Arthur Schwartz, a union and employment lawyer who met several times with Mr. Edwards last year about co-founding a public-interest law firm in New York City.
Before he was a U.S. senator, or a vice presidential candidate, or a presidential contender, or an exposed adulterer, Mr. Edwards was a trial attorney of the likes North Carolina had never seen. He won record-breaking verdicts in malpractice suits and product liability judgments, using his homespun charisma to woo juries and establish himself as one of the pre-eminent plaintiff’s attorneys in the country.
“I am grateful for those years,” Mr. Edwards wrote later, in his book Four Trials, “for it was then that I came to understand how smart and decent all kinds of regular American people are and will surely continue to be—even at the worst moments in their lives.”
Mr. Edwards appeared to be hoping for some of that same decency at his own nadir—and in New York, of all places.
Mr. Schwartz and Mr. Edwards, both lawyers active in progressive politics, met through mutual friends. Before his indictment last month on federal campaign finance charges, Mr. Edwards had made three trips to New York City—in July, September and October—to scout for attorneys, and real estate.
“He never could do meetings in New York before 11 o’clock,” said Mr. Schwartz. “Because he couldn’t get a flight before 9, because he had to take his kids to school at 8.” Mr. Schwartz was sitting in his office as two of his children and a few members of his new firm, Advocates for Justice, unpacked boxes of books, posters and computer equipment.
“The furthest north we went was 42nd Street and I think we put a bid in on a place on Worth, that old city building, Worth and Church,” recalled Mr. Schwartz. “The D.E.P. used to be there. That big Art Deco lobby. Oh, and then we put in a proposal at this place on Bleecker and Broadway.” Mr. Schwartz recalled meetings with real estate brokers, none of whom batted an eye at showing space to the presidential candidate-turned-tabloid star. More important, neither did the financial community. Mr. Edwards, he noted, “has perfect credit. He has no debt. He bought his house for cash.”
The two held meetings in Washington, D.C., and New York City with prospective lawyers who might join the firm. Among the potential hires was City Councilwoman Letitia James.
“I thought he was very tall,” said Ms. James, who met Mr. Edwards at City Hall Restaurant last year. Working in a firm with the “vice president, er, Senator Edwards brought cachet with it,” said Ms. James.
Whatever might be said about Mr. Edwards’s politics and his personal life, his handling of cases was, by most accounts, unassailable.
A former campaign aide said he drove to court houses all over North Carolina, combing through the senator’s cases to flag anything that could damage him during the 2008 campaign. “I didn’t find anything,” the source said.
“Just having his name associated with the firm would provide gravitas,” said Ms. James, who was reluctant to speculate about working with Mr. Edwards in the future, given his current legal troubles. But Ms. James said working with Mr. Edwards would have been “an opportunity of a lifetime.”
A spokesman for Mr. Edwards, attorney Gregory Craig, said he didn’t know of any plans to open a firm here. (David Kirby, who was a law partner with Mr. Edwards in North Carolina, did not return a call for comment.)
Mr. Schwartz last spoke to Mr. Edwards in February, and, for now, he is moving forward without his would-be partner, leading a four-person team of lawyers that is just beginning to make a mark.
Right now, they’re holding meetings with residents and employees in Lower Manhattan who might qualify for federal aid under the Zadroga bill.
Earlier this year, the firm tried blocking the state from granting Cathie Black a waiver to become the New York City Schools Chancellor. (It was granted, but she was pushed out by Mayor Michael Bloomberg shortly afterward.) In April, Mr. Schwartz’s firm filed paperwork signaling their intention to sue Mayor Bloomberg for “misfeasance of office” for appointing Ms. Black.
The press attention isn’t quite what it might have been with Mr. Edwards on staff.
The Daily News called the firm’s latest gambit a “stupid litigation trick,” and Mr. Schwartz’s mother sent him a clipped copy, with his name underlined, and the simple question: “You??”
But Mr. Schwartz laughed and said he was happy. “You’re on the map,” he explained to his mother. “We got an editorial.”