75ºF

Corrine Brown jury selection headed to third day

Former congresswoman says she is confident she'll be found not guilty

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A second day of jury section ended Tuesday without a jury seated, putting the federal corruption trial of former Congresswoman Corrine Brown behind schedule before opening statements begin.

Twenty additional jurors joined the 44 remaining from Monday's pool. By 5:30 p.m. individual interviews by the judge were completed. At 10 a.m. Wednesday morning, prosecutors and the defense attorney will get a chance to use peremptory strikes to remove any juror they think would be unfavorable to their side before a panel of 14 -- 12 jurors and two alternates -- is empanelled and the trial can proceed.

Court officials are hoping that opening statements could begin Wednesday afternoon.

Legal observer Gene Nichols is not surprised that jury selection will spill into a third day.

"Because she is a polarizing figure, the court is going to make sure with each individual that nobody sitting on this jury will bring in a bias or prejudice that will affect their opinion on this case," Nichols said. "People are watching the news and they are paying attention."

Brown's indictment on conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion charges claims she and others raised $800,000 for the charity One Door for Education. The indictment said the organization only awarded two scholarships for $1,200, and the money was instead used for Brown’s personal expenses.

If she is found guilty on all of the charges against her, Brown could face 350 years in prison.

On Monday, 21 potential jurors were dismissed because of hardship, too much knowledge of the case or a connection to Brown, the judge or one or more witnesses scheduled to testify. Seven more jurors were struck for cause Tuesday -- one who said that she couldn't make a good decision in the case because the people from the Clinton Global Initiative hadn't been investigated.

The jury will not be sequestered during the trial, but they must not see any coverage of the trial until after a verdict is reached.

A lawyer who was a federal prosecutor for 17 years said one of Brown's challenges will be the makeup of the jury pool.

"(The) federal district spans half a dozen different counties, including Baker County, Columbia County," Curtis Fallgatter said. "(You) can get an awfully rural type of mix on the jury. (It) tends to be a lot of government retirees, because you've got the military installations here. (There are) not too many minorities on that panel because of the broad scope of selection in rural counties."

"Every attorney will tell you racial makeup matters because there are different perceptions in life," Fallgatter said. "All due respect to white folks, you know, (but) some white folks think black folks should be held to a higher or different standard, and may not have that compassion and understanding. Minorities may see it a little different way."

While Brown might not consider an all-white panel to be a jury of her peers, Fallgatter said that's a distinct possibility.

"I think it's a negative for her to not have minorities that may be a little more understanding as to what she does for her job and the trust she had in others to help her get that job done and be a little oblivious to misconduct others may be conducting or be involved in," Fallgatter said.

Fallgatter said that based on his experience, he believes that if Brown is convicted, she'll likely be sentenced to five or six years in prison, and would likely only serve 85 percent of that time.

Brown has continued to insist that she is innocent, calling the prosecution a "witch hunt." The I-TEAM learned Monday that she recently sold a Fernandina Beach home she co-owned with her brother for $275,000 to help pay for her defense.


About the Authors: