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Frederick Baron, former Edwards finance chief, paid Rielle Hunter

By A. James Memmott

August 13, 2008 at 10:23am

Frederick M. Baron was there for John Edwards in the past, giving and raising lots of money and doing other favors like letting the Democratic presidential candidate use his private jet.

Now it turns out that Baron, a lawyer made wealthy by suing asbestos companies, supplied the cash that moved Rielle Hunter, Edwards’ former lover, from North Carolina to California.

The National Enquirer’s report last year of an affair between Hunter and Edwards - an affair the politician denied until Friday - had led to enormous media pressure on Hunter, Baron said.

Andrew Young, an Edwards campaign worker who lived in North Carolina and claimed to be the father of Hunter’s child, was also being hounded by the press, Baron added.

Consequently, Baron said he provided both Hunter and Young with the means to head west.

“I made a decision on my own, without talking to Edwards or anybody, to try to help them move to a community to get away from those folks,” Baron told the newspaper.

Edwards said in an interview with ABC’s Bob Woodruff aired Friday that he did not know about any money given to Hunter. He also said he is not the father of Hunter’s child, a girl who was born in February.

Hunter had been hired by an Edwards political action committee in 2006 to produce web videos. She was paid $114,461, in all.

Baron was the finance chairman for the Edwards campaign, as he was in 2004 when Edwards, then a senator from North Carolina, sought the Democratic presidential nomination.

The Dallas Morning News reported that both Hunter and Young worked under Baron in the last campaign.

Hunter told the newspaper that Edwards was an “extraordinary human being who made an egregious error.”

“It breaks my heart if this is going to disqualify him from being a public servant, because he would be a great one,” he said.

Like Edwards, Baron is a lawyer who made millions suing on behalf of plaintiffs.

He told the publication Texas Lawyer that he was attending the University of Texas Law School in the 1970s when he heard Ralph Nader speak on how the law could be used to “regulate corporate conduct.”

Inspired, he became a lawyer representing plaintiffs suing large corporations.

(A subsequent friendship between Baron and Nader cooled during the 2000 presidential campaign when Baron, who backed Al Gore, urged trial lawyers not to support Nader.)

After several years in practice, Baron founded the Dallas firm of Baron & Budd, P.C., in 1977. The firm successfully represented thousands of victims of exposure to asbestos and other toxins.

Baron & Budd faced some criticism for its tactics, especially with the surfacing of a 1997 internal document that seemed to encourage plaintiffs to stretch the truth, if not to lie.

Baron argued the document was the product of a paralegal in the firm. No action was taken against Baron & Budd, though the firm, and trial lawyers in general, took a public relations beating.

Baron and his wife, attorney Lisa Blue, sold their equity interest in the firm in 2002, though they remain under contract through 2009.

In 2006, they sued the firm for breach of contract and other matters. The suit was eventually settled out of court.

Over the years, Baron has given hundreds of thousands of dollars to candidates for public offices, both nationally and in Texas.

In general, he has supported Democrats, though he has contributed to Republicans.

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