JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – The attorney for former Congresswoman Corrine Brown, who was convicted last month on 18 federal charges, including fraud and tax evasion, for stealing from an unregistered charity, has followed through with his promise to file a motion for a new trial and a motion for judgment of acquittal.
James Smith had also talked about filing a motion to interview Juror No. 3, the juror who told the I-TEAM that the verdicts might not have been reached if one of the jurors hadn't told Judge Timothy Corrigan something that got juror No. 13 removed from the panel. But Smith said after reviewing case law, nothing juror No. 3 could tell his team would be admissible in court to invalidate the verdict, but he continued to call the comments from juror No. 3 "disturbing."
"It just doesn't look like we have a legal avenue to be able to get it in," Smith said. "So rather than filing a motion where we know we have no chance of winning, we'll simply move on and pursue the motions that we have that are viable."
Smith said he believes one of those is the motion for a new trial based on the dismissal of juror No. 13.
Juror No. 8 told the court during the trial that juror No. 13 had made comments about Brown and “higher beings,” but according to the unsealed transcript from the closed hearing, when Corrigan asked juror No. 13, a Middleburg Navy veteran, if he said a “higher being” told him Brown was not guilty on all the charges, the juror responded; “No, I said the Holy Spirit told me that.”
After interviewing both jurors, Corrigan decided juror No. 13 needed to be dismissed, and an alternate was seated, despite Smith's objections.
But juror No. 3 told News4Jax that No. 13 had also said that he believed the evidence backed up his not guilty vote. She said before juror No. 13 was dismissed, the two of them had been the lone holdouts for a not guilty verdict, but after he was removed without any explanation given to the jury about his dismissal, she felt intimidated and changed her vote to guilty.
“I think, if you look at the transcripts, you’ll see this was a complex issue for all parties to deal with during the trial. I can certainly say I’ve never dealt with anything like this during my years as an attorney, and I think I can say that was also the case for the judge and the prosecutor,” Smith said. “I think the judge tried to do the best he could under very difficult circumstances, and I think the government argued in good faith, as well, but we just think the court made a mistake here.”
Several hours after the new trial motion was filed, Smith filed the motion for judgment of acquittal, which is considered a standard, routine motion that asks whether there was enough evidence for the jury to make an educated decision.
"(This motion) is filed by all defendants in criminal cases like this," Smith said. "During the trial, we made a motion for a judgment of acquittal. They were denied, initially, by the judge, but just to preserve our appellate issues, we renew the motion again in writing."
Smith asked for and was granted an extension to the original deadline for the motions. The new deadline was Thursday.
Another attorney from Smith's firm, Samuel Walker, has joined Brown's case as a co-counsel, according to documents filed with the court. The firm's website indicates he heads the appellate practice group.
Brown is currently free on bond awaiting sentencing. No date has been set yet for her sentencing hearing.
Brown is having financial difficulties and hasn't paid a chunk of her legal bills, sources tell the I-TEAM.
Those bills will continue to climb as Brown goes through the appeals process.
“I will just say that, obviously, putting on a defense like this takes a lot of money, and I’ve been encouraged recently by the number of people who are coming forward to say they want to contribute to the legal defense fund,” Smith said. “I can say she is trying to take advantage of all the resources that are out there, and we welcome the number of people who have expressed in the last few days, a desire to help her out. They know this fight isn’t just about her, it’s a fight for the right to a fair trial.”
One of Brown's co-conspirators, Carla Wiley, was set to be sentenced Monday but the hearing was postponed without a new date set. Wiley founded the One Door for Education charity that Brown, Wiley and Brown's chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, used as a personal slush fund.