* Political observers suggest quiet, altruistic life

* Return to legal career is possible (Adds details)

By Colleen Jenkins

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C., June 1 (Reuters) - Former presidential candidate John Edwards began his public rehabilitation on the steps of a federal courthouse shortly after the end of his trial on campaign finance charges.

For a man widely scorned for cheating on his wife as she battled cancer and then lying about his child with videographer Rielle Hunter, it will not be an easy road back. It's also uncertain where that road will take Edwards. One thing is clear, observers said: It's far too soon for the former senator to consider a return to politics.

On their ninth day of deliberation Thursday, a jury found Edwards not guilty on one count of taking illegal campaign contributions and deadlocked on five other campaign finance charges. Afterward, Edwards said he wanted to dedicate his life to being a good dad and to helping poor children in the United States and abroad.

"I don't think God's through with me," said the lawyer-turned-politician who fathered a child with his mistress during his 2008 presidential campaign. "I really believe he thinks there's still some good things I can do."

Political observers in the state Edwards represented for six years in the U.S. Senate said a quiet, altruistic life would clearly be the most sensible path to redemption.

Many expect a return to his professional roots - he made his name and millions as one of the country's top personal injury lawyers - with some type of legal aid work. Edwards' law license remains intact. A law enforcement source said Justice Department prosecutors were unlikely to retry Edwards but no final decision had been made.

"His political career is clearly in tatters," said Ferrel Guillory, director of the Program on Public Life at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"There seems to me to be no appetite, certainly in the short or even the medium term, for John Edwards to run for office again in North Carolina."


Prosecutors accused Edwards, who turns 59 on June 10, of seeking more than $900,000 from two wealthy supporters to conceal his pregnant mistress from voters during his bid to win the Democratic nomination four years ago.

Several jurors said on network talk shows on Friday that there was not enough evidence against Edwards to warrant convictions but some felt he was guilty of at least a few of the charges brought against him by the government.

"I think he definitely had some knowledge of the money, where the money was going," juror Ladonna Foster said on NBC's "Today" show.

"But he was just smart enough to hide it," said juror Cindy Aquaro.

None of the three jurors interviewed on NBC said they thought Edwards was a bad guy.

Wade Smith, a prominent Raleigh lawyer who Edwards has described as a legal mentor, said the American public understands people sometimes make big mistakes.

He said he would advise Edwards to concentrate for now on being a father. Since Elizabeth Edwards' death in 2010, John Edwards has been a single parent to their three surviving children: Cate, 30, Emma Claire, 14, and Jack, 12. The Edwardses' teenage son, Wade, died in a 1996 car crash.

Edwards also is helping to raise Quinn, his 4-year-old daughter with Hunter, according to Hunter's spokeswoman.

"The time will come when there will be other things that John can do," Smith said. "My hope would be that he would not push it, that he would be quiet and calm."

The level of sincerity Edwards shows in his family life and in whatever cause he takes up next will help shape the public's opinion of him, observers said.

"I think there's probably going to be some feeling that he's paid a pretty high price for what he did wrong," said Gary Pearce, who served as a consultant on Edwards' 1998 Senate campaign but has had little contact with him since.

"If he comes back and does something constructive, I think people will be forgiving." (Additional reporting by Wade Rawlins; Editing by Jackie Frank and Bill Trott)

Below, a recap of Edwards' relationship with Hunter:
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  • Love At First Sight?

    "And when they left, my friend went over and asked Tony if that was John Edwards, and he said yes. And my friend turned to me and said, 'See, I told you it was John Edwards.' And then I came over to the table, and I said, 'I can't believe that was John Edwards; he's so hot. He's really got it going on. He's got something unusual about him, and I never would have recognized him.' And Tony said, 'Oh, my God, you should have come over and told him that. He would have loved to have heard that.'"

  • An Extraordinary Night

    "We had an extraordinary night, and I did know that this was unlike anything either of us had ever experienced. And as we have all learned, that was accurate! [laughs] He in fact did say to me the first night, 'Falling in love with you could really [screw] up my plans for becoming President.' And of course I said, 'If you want to make God laugh, tell him your plans.'"

  • The Oddest Connection He Had Ever Felt

    "Well, what Johnny later told me was, he went to dinner and could not stop thinking about me, like, 'Who was that woman, and why didn't I go over and talk to her?' ... So when he walked around the corner and saw me standing there, he lit up like a Christmas tree. And I thought his reaction when he saw me was just so cute. I mean, he looked like a little kid at Christmas. And I just uttered to him, 'You're so hot.' And he said, 'Why, thank you!' And he almost jumped into my arms. Literally. And um, that's how we met. On the corner of 61st and Park Avenue."

  • 'I Had To Sleep With Him'

    "I used to make a joke that I could have helped save the world, but I had to sleep with him. You know? It was kind of like that."

  • Falling In Love

    "I fell in love with Johnny ... He called me the next day. We talked on the phone almost every night for four hours. We met on February 21. On February 25—on the phone, from Davenport, Iowa—I fell in love with him. Head over heels in love. I was a goner."

  • Here's ... Johnny!

    "Isn't that funny? You know, when I first met him, the first week of our relationship, I said to him, 'For some reason I cannot call you John, it doesn't come out. Could I call you Johnny?' And he said, 'That's my name.' And I didn't know that, but that's his actual birth name."

  • Knight In Shining Armor?

    "I had this thing in my head like a lot of women, where you want your man to stand up on a cliff and scream, 'I LOVE HER.' You know, the knight in shining armor. And that wasn't what was going on."

  • On Her Relationship Status

    "I am not engaged."

  • Why She's Talking Now

    "I feel comfortable talking now, because Johnny went public and made a statement admitting paternity. I didn't feel like I could ever speak until he did that. Because had I spoken, I would have emasculated him. And I could not emasculate him. Also, it is not my desire to teach my daughter that when Mommy's upset with Daddy, you take matters into your own hands and fix Daddy's mistakes. Which I view as one of the biggest problems in all female-and-male relationships."

  • Not A Gold Digger

    "I mean, just for starters, I never 'hit on' Johnny. I'm not a predator, I'm not a gold digger, I'm not the stalker. I didn't have any power in that way in our relationship. He held all the power."

  • 'The Wrath Of Elizabeth Is A Mighty Wrath'

    "And I believe what happened in his marriage is, he could not go to his wife and say, 'We have an issue.' Because he would be pummeled. So he had a huge fear. Most of his mistakes or errors in judgment were because of his fear of the wrath of Elizabeth. He's allowed himself to be pushed into a lot of things that he wouldn't normally do because of Elizabeth's story line. And the spin that she wants to put out there. He was emasculated. And you know, the wrath of Elizabeth is a mighty wrath."

  • 'I Was A Bit Promiscuous'

    "I was never, as it's been reported, a drug addict. The word addiction means inability to stop. I stopped doing drugs in my twenties. As for being promiscuous, I would say that I was a bit promiscuous for about six months. But it was because I was partying, and there were a lot of very good-looking available 20-year-old men around that you'd be partying with, and there was a lot of, you know, hooking up going on."

  • A Toxic Relationship

    "[Elizabeth] was in denial about a lot of facts. And I say she was in denial because, you know, their relationship has been dysfunctional and toxic and awful for many, many years. And she was aware of, um, problems and chose to ignore them."

  • 'I Don't Really Believe He Was A Politician'

    "Well, I don't really believe he was a politician. I believe his ego and ambition drove him to that field. I believe he's more aligned with being a humanitarian. That suits his true nature. Just like I wasn't a mistress. You know, I'm not a mistress, but I played the role? I believe he played the role of a politician. It's not who he is. Being a politician was a path of transformation for him, I believe. It's not really what he was put on the planet to do."

  • Not A 'Home Wrecker'

    "And, well, first of all, infidelity doesn't happen in healthy marriages. The break in the marriage happens before the infidelity. And that break happened, you know, two and a half decades before I got there. So the home was wrecked already. I was not the Home Wrecker."

  • Naming Frances Quinn Hunter

    "Her name is Frances Quinn Hunter, and I love the name Frances. Johnny wasn't over the moon about Frances. So I was coming up with names, and Quinn is a name that I loved, and that was the only name that he thought was cool. And so I named her Quinn because Daddy really liked it."

  • Was Andrew Young In Love With Edwards?

    "Andrew [Young] was in love with Johnny...In love with him. Beyond. And I believe he loved Johnny more than he loved Cheri. So Johnny was the third person in their relationship. And I'm sure she hates Johnny, because Andrew took a lot of obvious actions that were for Johnny and not for Cheri. But Cheri went along with them. And they both have a way of spinning things. But a lot of their motivation is money."

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