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Katrina Brown asks to represent herself in fraud trial

Former city councilwoman scheduled to go on trial next month

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Two weeks before jury selection is scheduled to begin in her federal fraud and money laundering trial, former Jacksonville City Council member Katrina Brown is asking to waive representation by a lawyer and defend herself.

One of Brown’s court-appointed attorneys, Richard Landes, filed a motion Monday requesting a hearing regarding Brown's representation. The motion cited a “recent issue” that had been raised by Brown regarding her representation by Landes and her other court-appointed defense attorney, John Leombruno. The attorneys requested an expedited hearing on the issue and U.S. Magistrate Judge James Klindt heard her argument Wednesday afternoon.

At the start of the hearing, Landes told the court that Brown had emailed him Sunday night, saying she wished to represent herself and take her defense in the direction she felt was best,

After a lengthy discussion in court -- much of it closed due to topics related to attorney-client privilege -- Klindt scheduled what is called a Faretta inquiry for Thursday afternoon. In that hearing, a judge reviews if a defendant's decision to reject outside counsel is "knowing and intelligent" and considers several factors, including the defendant's mental condition, the complexity of the case, the seriousness of the charge, the potential sentence, the defendant's experience in the criminal justice system and to ensure the waiver of counsel was not coerced.

DOCUMENT: Katrina Brown’ motion on representation

Katrina Brown and former City Council member Reggie Brown were charged in a 38-count federal indictment that was unsealed in May 2018. The Browns, who are not related, face charges that include conspiracy, fraud and money laundering. The fraud allegations involve money loaned to Katrina Brown’s family’s barbecue sauce business, KJB Specialties.

Jury selection for the trial is currently scheduled to begin on Aug. 14, with the trial starting on Aug. 19. Last week, the two former council members, along with their attorneys and prosecutors, were in court for a final status conference before the trial’s scheduled start. The hearing dealt with several outstanding motions involving evidence and testimony and handled housekeeping matters such as the length of the trial. Prosecutors had said they expected to present their case in five days, and each defendant expected to take about a day.

Landes and Leombruno were appointed to represent Katrina Brown in January after her previous court-appointed attorney, Darcy Galnor, withdrew from the case. In December, Galnor filed a motion that cited “irreconcilable differences” with Brown, and the motion was granted after a hearing that included more than an hour and a half of proceedings that were closed to everyone other than court personnel, Brown, and her attorney.

The trial for Katrina Brown and Reggie Brown was originally scheduled for August 2018, but was delayed to February to give defense attorneys time to review the voluminous evidence in the case. Following Katrina Brown’s change of attorneys, the judge delayed the trial again to August to give her time to prepare with her new legal team.

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Lifetime Floridian anchors weekends and reports weekdays on issues in Nassau and Baker counties and beyond.