New attorney linked to Corrine Brown disciplined for mismanaging funds

Orlando attorney helping with public relations in Brown's federal fraud case

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Orlando attorney Natalie Jackson, who was seen in federal court with Congresswoman Corrine Brown on Wednesday, is currently on probation with the Florida Bar. The I-TEAM found she was suspended in May in connection with financial mismanagement of a trust fund for clients.

Jackson told the I-TEAM that she is not legally representing Brown in her federal fraud case and that her current role in the case is to help with public relations.

Brown, D-Florida, and her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, are accused of using an unregistered charity to raise $800,000 that prosecutors said they used as a personal "slush fund." Among the 22 federal charges against Brown are counts of conspiracy, mail and wire fraud and violation of tax laws.

Orlando-based attorney James Smith is representing Brown. He is the only attorney who filed the required paperwork with federal court to be Brown's attorney of record.

Jackson previously served as co-counsel representing Trayvon Martin's family. She's a former public defender known in the Orlando community for taking on high-profile clients and also for her civil rights work to include a human rights case that gained national media attention. Jackson represented black barbershop owners subjected to police raids. The case made it to the federal circuit court of appeals and Jackson’s clients later received financial settlements for their hardships.

As for her financial troubles, the I-TEAM obtained the state Supreme Court ruling from earlier this year in which Jackson entered a guilty plea and agreed to several disciplinary measures, including a 90-day suspension from practicing law, a two-year probation period after reinstatement and a monthly probation monitoring fee and court cost of $3,780.60.

The bar opened its investigation into Jackson after learning she had over-drafted her trust account. That account is to be maintained separately for clients and is not to be combined with personal or business expenses.

Jackson told the court the overdraft occurred twice by accident while transferring fees. The bar then conducted an audit of the trust account and found Jackson failed to provide accurate records, such as deposit slips, receipts and disbursements for all client transactions.

Jackson acknowledged in her deposition that prior to the bar's audit she had not been maintaining the records properly.

The auditors found over the course of two months in 2015, the account had shortages ranging from $36.98 to $2,406.98. When Jackson became aware, she corrected the shortages, according to records.

The bar determined that all of Jackson's clients were unharmed and that they all received their money. The error was an accounting issue for which Jackson accepted responsibility. 

After the bar investigation, Jackson retained an accountant. As part of her disciplinary action, she had to agree to keep that certified public accountant for the entire term of her probation.

The Florida Bar said Jackson had no prior disciplinary record and was suffering from personal and emotional problems at the time. The bar went as far as to say Jackson "maintains a good reputation in the legal community and routinely participates in pro bono work."

Jackson's suspension was lifted in July, and she is currently "in good standing,” the bar told the I-TEAM.

The I-TEAM called Jackson for comment, and she released the following statement:

I am an attorney in good standing with the bar. While I don't have an official role in Congresswoman Brown's case, I have volunteered to assist Attorney James Smith's office in this case because I believe the salaciousness of these false charges, the redistricting of her district, and the timing of this indictment was a deliberate attempt to unseat a community leader who has been elected by her district over the past 24 years because she cared more about the rights and prosperity of her constituents than playing nice with the political status quo."

Jackson and Smith were both students at Hampton University and both served as adjunct professors at Florida A&M University Law School in Orlando. Smith is a former Army Judge Advocate General Officer. Jackson was a Naval Intelligence Officer.

The I-TEAM also left a message with Smith for comment about Jackson's suspension, but we have not yet heard back.

About the Author:

Lynnsey Gardner is an Edward R. Murrow award-winning investigative reporter and fill-in anchor for The Local Station.