Corrine Brown: 'I'm going through the fire, but it's not over'

Judge releases transcript of closed hearing that ended with juror dismissal

By Lynnsey Gardner - Investigative reporter, Jim Piggott - Reporter

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - After a hearing in which Judge Timothy Corrigan agreed to unseal the transcripts from a closed hearing that ended with one of the jurors in her federal corruption trial being dismissed, former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown stood on the federal courthouse steps Monday afternoon, thanked her supporters and again declared her innocence.

“I just know that the Lord has not left me yet. He's still working with me,” Brown said. “Evidently, I'm going through the fire, but it's not over.”

Brown was convicted Thursday on 18 counts in a federal corruption trial related to a scheme that used sham education charity One Door for Education to finance personal expenses and events.

After the hearing, Brown stopped and talked briefly with reporters as her attorney, James Smith, again said the process is not over for Brown.

“I'm really happy that I can now at least thank the community for standing by me. I am innocent," Brown said. “Everything is as normal as it can be. This last 15 months have been very difficult. It's been a very difficult time in my life. I'm looking forward, as my pastor says, to the next phase of my life. This is not the end.”

UNCUT: Corrine Brown speaks publicly for first time since conviction
DOCUMENT: Unsealed transcript of juror dismissal hearing

One of the biggest question marks hanging over Brown's federal convictions was why Corrigan dismissed a juror from the trial days into deliberations.

The controversy that prompted the seating of an alternate juror began when juror No. 8 contacted the court last Tuesday night, saying that she was concerned because juror No. 13 was talking about "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 Corrine Brown was not guilty on all the charges, the juror responded; “No, I said the Holy Spirit told me that.”

After interviewing both jurors Wednesday, Corrigan decided juror No. 13 needed to be dismissed and an alternate was seated, despite Smith's objections.

U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan

"I have found good cause to dismiss one juror and seat an alternate," Corrigan said after the closed hearing, without offering further explanation.

A juror who did not want to be identified told News4Jax after the trial that juror No. 13 was heard telling other members of the panel that “the Holy Spirit told him Corrine Brown was innocent,” confirming what was in the court transcript.

“We objected to the dismissal of juror No. 13. We think that juror No. 13 never demonstrated that he couldn't be fair and impartial and just because that juror stated that he had an opinion which was informed by the Holy Spirit but confirmed by the evidence afterward that that was not a sufficient basis to dismiss him,” Smith said. “I know that's something that might generate some snickers or laughs or so forth, but I think the important issue is this: Jurors should be allowed to serve if they are willing to follow the instructions and the law. My recollection of that hearing is that he said exactly that.”

During the hearing Monday it was also revealed that a juror contacted Smith and said she had information about the deliberations that could help Brown with her appeal. And another juror contacted Corrigan's clerk, via text message, expressing similar concerns.

The text read:  “I just heard on the news about a juror not voting guilty on all charges because of Holy Spirit telling him so. But that is not true in the partial vote we had taken at roll call before removal.”

Corrigan made clear Monday that jurors should not be contacting the court and that their verdict should serve as one unanimous voice.

The jurors had the courtroom deputy's cellphone number during the trial so that they could communicate with her about issues like traffic or illness that might affect their ability to report to court as directed.

Sketch by Steve Bridges

Corrine Brown and her lawyer, James Smith, at Monday's hearing.

Attorneys are also not allowed to have contact with jurors. Smith filed a motion to allow him to speak with the juror who contacted him in more detail but Corrigan denied the motion.

DOCUMENT: Motion on post-verdict issues

“Sometimes when you feel that you have fertile ground for a new trial, that can lift your spirits,” Smith said. “Just know that we're pursuing every avenue that we can, because ultimately, even more important than the verdict is to make sure that the verdict was reached in the appropriate and fair way.”

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