JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Corrine Brown will have to appeal her conviction and sentence from behind bars, a judge ruled Wednesday.
U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan denied a motion from Brown's attorney, James Smith, requesting a bond pending appeal. Corrigan said Brown must start her prison sentence as scheduled.
"While it is customary for a first time, non-violent white collar offender such as Corrine Brown to be allowed to voluntarily surrender to the Bureau of Prisons following sentencing, it is not customary for such an offender to remain free pending appeal," Corrigan wrote. "In fact, the law presumes that a person who stands convicted and sentenced will begin service of her sentence unless she can meet certain criteria."
Brown will have to report to a federal prison facility by noon Jan. 29, Corrigan ordered. She will receive a letter from the Bureau of Prisons telling her where to report.
“Obviously, it's disappointing,” Smith said. “The congresswoman did not have a fair trial, with all due respect to the judge that presided over this case, I do believe he made a mistake when he dismissed juror No. 13.”
Smith argued in his motion that the issue of that juror's removal during deliberations was enough of a "significant question" that Brown should remain out on bond while the appeals process takes place. But prosecutors said Corrigan made the right call dismissing the juror, and Brown should serve her prison time while she appeals.
Corrigan ruled that the issue the defense raises in their appeal is not a "substantial question of law."
"It is in the interest of justice that she begin serving her sentence," Corrigan wrote.
But Brown can appeal Corrigan's decision to the Eleventh Circuit, no later than Dec. 29.
Smith said she plans to do just that and is "optimistic" the Appeals Court in Atlanta will allow her to remain out on bond pending appeal for a new trial. He said she's "confident" she will not go to prison next month.
“Despite what many people in the public may think, this case is far from over,” Smith said.
Brown has made no public comments since her sentencing.
Attorney files motion to withdraw, 2 new attorneys sign on
Early Wednesday evening, Smith filed a motion asking a judge to let him withdraw as Brown's attorney of record, as her appeals process gets underway.
A judge granted Smith's motion Thursday.
Smith sent the following statement to News4Jax's Joy Purdy after filing the motion:
I write this statement to address any speculation that has been generated today as a result of my motion to withdraw from this case. The Congresswoman and I agreed that at this point it would be best for her to obtain the services of an appellate specialist given the nature of the issues she is facing on appeal. Today’s action should not be viewed as me abandoning her cause. I will continue to assist her appellate counsel in any way that I can and I will do what I can to help her prove her innocence.
"Lawyers dream of being able to represent clients like Corrine Brown. She is a true legend. The reason I cried during her sentencing is because I believe in her innocence and I think that she did not get a fair trial.
"This process is far from over and I’m confident that soon Corrine Brown will be vindicated.
"My client is fond of saying that when you are born you get a birth certificate and when you die you get a death certificate. What you do in between is your legacy. I’m proud to say that the story of my life will include a chapter that I fought for a true civil rights champion. The struggle continues."
Hours earlier, two appellate attorneys, William Mallory Kent and Ryan Edward McFarland, signed on to Brown's case. Both work at the same Jacksonville firm, which specializes in criminal appeals.
Smith previously told News4Jax that he specializes in trial work and has done some appeals, but wouldn't be surprised if Brown chooses an appellate attorney for the next phase of her case.
According to their website, Kent was "designated ... a super lawyer" in 2017 and considered to be in the "top 5 percent of appellate attorneys in the state of Florida."
He's handled nearly 800 criminal appeals over 39 years, more than half in federal court.
The I-TEAM reached out to Brown's new legal team Wednesday night, and received a "no comment."
The appellate attorneys will now get to work filing an emergency appeal in Atlanta, home to the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals.
In that appeal, Brown is asking again to stay out on bond while she fights for a new trial. That would overturn Wednesday's ruling by Corrigan.
The appeals process could take as much as a year, and Smith said Brown is hopeful she won't spend that year behind bars.
“There has always been a certain amount of optimism in this case that I'm sure may seem strange to people on the outside,” Smith said. “One thing I will say is people on the outside don't always have access to the information that we have.”
Charity slush fund scheme
The 71-year-old who served more than two decades in Congress was sentenced Dec. 4 to five years in prison in a federal corruption scandal focused on a bogus charity.
A jury convicted Brown in May of 18 fraud and tax-related charges for stealing hundreds of thousands of dollars from donors that was supposed to go to underprivileged children's education needs.
The charity, One Door for Education, raised $833,000 in a four-year span, but gave only $1,200 in scholarships.
The rest of the money went into the pockets of Brown and her co-conspirators: chief of staff Ronnie Simmons and charity founder Carla Wiley.
Simmons and Wiley pleaded guilty in the case and testified against Brown. Simmons was sentenced to 48 months and Wiley received 21 months for their roles in the scam.
All three must also serve three years of supervised release and pay $250 a month in restitution until they have paid back the money they stole from One Door.
That stolen money, according to court documents, paid for a lavish lifestyle that included nearly $14,000 for Beyonce tickets and $15,000 for a suite at a Jaguars-Redskins game.