Judge denies Corrine Brown's motions for acquittal or new trial
Ex-congresswoman to be sentenced in November on 18 charges
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown will not have her convictions thrown out or be granted a new trial, a federal judge decided Wednesday.
Brown is set to be sentenced Nov. 16 on 18 federal mail, wire and tax fraud charges.
Brown's attorney, James Smith, told News4Jax that she was distraught by the judge's decision.
“I contacted the congresswoman and spoke with her, and she was obviously surprised and disappointed as well,” Smith said. “But the one thing I can tell you is that she is very strong and resolute. After we discussed what happened, her next question to me was, 'What is next? What do we do?'”
The 12-term congresswoman from Jacksonville was convicted in May of taking money raised for the One Door for Education Foundation and lying on her taxes and congressional financial disclosure forms. Prosecutors convinced a jury that Brown used the unregistered charity as a personal slush fund.
Brown's co-conspirators, her former chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, and Carla Wiley, the head of the unregistered charity the trio stole from, will be sentenced Nov. 15 for their role in the scheme. Both pleaded guilty.
Smith said in a motion for Brown's acquittal that the government never proved that she was a liar and a thief.
One of Smith's key arguments was that the judge erred by removing a juror who said he received guidance about Brown’s innocence from what he described as “the Holy Spirit.” Prosecutors said the judge had no legal choice but to remove the juror. They suggested that if if the situation was reversed -- a juror had said the Holy Spirit told them Brown was guilty -- that person would also have been removed.
Judge Timothy Corrigan said in his order to deny the defense's motion that he had proper cause to dismiss the man because "his religious beliefs compelled him to disregard those (jury) instructions and instead follow direction from the 'Holy Spirit' to find the defendant not guilty on all charges."
Corrigan said he doesn't think the juror was willfully disobeying the court's instructions but that he believed he had received instructions from an outside source and didn't understand how that conflicted with the court's instructions.
In denying the motion for a new trial, Corrigan said Brown got a fair trial with an impartial jury that reached a verdict in accordance with the law.
Smith said he was surprised and disappointed by the decision.
"I thought that we wrote two good motions to get a new trial based on the dismissal of the juror," Smith said. "I thought we had a good oral argument."
Attorney Curtis Fallgatter, who's been following the case as a legal analyst, said he understands Corrigan's ruling.
"He is sticking with the decision he made before, not too surprising," Fallgatter said. "It's a well-reasoned decision on his part, but, of course, it still leaves the issues on appeal for Ms. Brown."
Brown, who continues to maintain her innocence, faces up to 277 years in prison and the possibility of paying restitution.
“This is a woman who certainly doesn't pose a danger or threat to anyone, and she doesn't present a public risk,” Smith said.
Legal experts said it's likely Brown will get five to seven years in federal prison, but that not taking responsibility for her crimes could equal more prison time.
Smith said he will be working on an appeal, but declined to say how Wednesday's rulings might play into that.
He said Brown and the case are not going away just because the motions were denied.
"I think the case of Corrine Brown is going to be going on frankly for years," Smith said. "And the major issues that this court decided, and the 11th Circuit and possibly the Supreme Court are going to have to resolve, is whether or not she got a fair trial."
Smith and Fallgatter both said there is a good chance Brown won't be hauled off to prison right after the sentencing, as typically in white-collar type crimes defendants remain out of prison pending appeals.
What could prison life be like for Corrine Brown?
While it's still unclear just how much time Corrine Brown will be sentenced to, it's clear that federal prison would be a big change from the Capitol Hill that the for former congresswoman is used to.
Some might assume that public figures would get special treatment when they're sent to prison, but News4Jax was told that's not the case.
"She'll be treated like any other inmate in the facility," said Gil Smith, News4Jax crime and safety analyst.
According to Smith, Brown will have a slightly better experience at federal prison as opposed to state prison.
"The facilities are a little bit newer because they're maintained by federal dollars, so they're a little bit nicer," Smith said. "But still, it's a prison."
He also said she'll have the same level of security as the rest of the inmates.
"It may not be as crowded as some state prisons are, but other than that, they still don't have freedom of movement," Smith said.
Again, once the sentencing is over, it'll be up to the judge to determine whether Brown will head immediately to prison, or allowed to stay at home while she appeals.
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