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After a Tough Day in Court, It’s Party Time in the Edwards Trial

November 23, 1985

NEW ORLEANS (AP) _ Just because you’re in serious trouble with the law doesn’t mean you have to be serious. Not in Louisiana, anyway.

Gov. Edwin Edwards and his seven co-defendants in a federal racketeering trial have stolen headlines with their defiant antics outside the courtroom during the last 10 weeks.

Edwards arrived at the courthouse one day in a mule-drawn buggy from the French Quarter. ″I was looking for some mode of transportation that was indicative of the pace of the trial,″ he explained.

His brother Marion, accused by U.S. Attorney John Volz of being the governor’s ″bag man,″ played the part to the hilt one night at a French Quarter bar.

Invited to be the ″celebrity bar tender″ at Molly’s at the Market, Marion Edwards entered wearing a shopping bag on his head like a crown. He reached into another bag and tossed phony $100 bills to the crowd while blowing a whistle.

The governor’s attorney, James Neal, also did a stint as a celebrity barkeep at Molly’s. But his teetotaling client stole the show, right in front of the TV cameras, by raising a cup of ice water and proposing a ″toast″ to Volz:

″When I’m in a happy mood, I eat and sing and drink,

″When I’m in a sober mood, I worry, work and think,

″When my moods are over, and my time has come to pass,

″I hope they bury me upside down, so Volz can kiss my ---.″

Volz gamely took his turn at the taps at Molly’s but was clearly out of his league. He had to force a smile when reporters put up a sign welcoming ″Defense exhibit No. 1: Jumpin’ John Volz.″

That referred to Neal’s claim in court that prosecutors had ″jumped up and down″ during grand jury proceedings. When Volz leaped to his feet to object, Neal milked a big laugh by offering Volz as defense exhibit No. 1. Charles David Isbell, a nephew of the Edwards brothers and one of the defendants, is paying for his room in a downtown hotel by playing piano in the lounge at night.

One night Isbell was invited down to Molly’s to play, and Uncle Marion dedicated the songs. There was ″The Gambler″ for brother Ed, whose Las Vegas exploits became an issue in the trial; ″16 Tons″ for portly co-defendant Gus Mijalis; and ″Please Release Me″ for all the defendants.

Mijalis lumbered over to the piano and sang ″I Did It My Way.″ Then he stuffed a phony dollar bill into his mouth.

Why do they do it?

″It doesn’t do any good to sit round mulling and grulling and crying,″ Marion Edwards said.

″Everybody tries to act like they’re in a good mood,″ Mijalis said. ″But nobody wants to be here.″

The defendants are accused of using their influence to illegally obtain state certification for nursing home and hospital projects in which they held interests. If convicted, they face years in jail and some stand to lose millions of dollars in fines and forfeitures.

The sideshows, Marion Edwards says, couldn’t happen anywhere else. ″That’s why south Louisiana is so great,″ he said. ″People of Louisiana love to live.″

Neal recalls a heavily publicized trial in Indiana in which reporters, prosecutors and defense lawyers formed competing bowling teams.

″But there is a little more camaraderie here,″ he said as he strolled past the spot where the defendants and their lawyers had recently posed for a kind of team picture. ″A little more willingness to relax and be friendly in the off hours.″

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