Federal judge eases limits on Corrine Brown pending appeal

Her sentence frozen, former congresswoman is essentially out on bond

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – A federal judge granted a motion Tuesday to allow former congresswoman Corrine Brown to return to the same restrictions on her movements as before she was convicted of 18 charges of fraud and tax evasion in and sentenced to five years in prison.

Brown was released from a Central Florida federal prison earlier this year after her attorney argued health issues made her especially vulnerable to the coronavirus. Brown’s attorney filed a renewed motion for release pending appeal and it asked that the judge wave the requirement she check-in with a halfway house.

Her only comment as she headed into the federal courthouse for the first time since her conviction Tuesday was about her supporters: “I love them. God is good to me.”

During the hearing, we learned that the ankle monitor that was used when she initially left prison was removed, but she was required to call a halfway house regularly. As she is basically out on bond, the only restrictions were to not break any laws, consume alcohol or illegal drugs or leave the country.

Brown remained silent as she left after hearing, saying only “pray and vote” before closing the door of a waiting SUV.

Courtroom sketch of Corrine Brown in the federal courtroom during Tuesday's hearing. (Steve "The Artist" Bridges)

“If you’re going to give her bond pending appeal, you stop the running of a sentence and allow the court of appeals to determine what they think is the correct decision to be made,” said former federal prosecutor Curtis Fallgatter who is now in private practice and not affiliated with this case. “If the conviction gets reversed, she should not be spending time in a prison environment or in-home detention.”

Brown was convicted in 2017 of multiple federal charges, most involving the use of the “One Door for Education” charity as a personal slush fund. Brown’s appeal of that conviction was initially denied by a three-judge panel, but a couple of weeks ago the full federal appeals court agreed to hear the challenge.

Brown’s appeal centers on the judge’s decision to replace a juror who said the “Holy Spirit” told him Brown was not guilty during her trial in 2017. An alternate was brought in, and Brown was then convicted of 18 charges and sentenced to five years in prison. Brown’s attorneys raised the point that choice could be religious discrimination.

“Ultimately, both the district court (Corrigan) and the panel mischaracterize prayer as an external influence rather than an internal experience. For a Christian, saying ‘I trust the Holy Spirit’ is roughly equivalent to saying ‘I trust my gut.’ Such a belief is consistent with evaluating the evidence -- it is not inherently disqualifying."

The counting of days toward her sentence is now on hold. If the appeal court upholds her conviction, she goes back to serving her remaining sentence. If she’s granted a new trial and is convicted again, the days she has already served would count toward that sentence.

There is a risk to Brown’s strategy. If she loses her appeal, which more than likely will be heard next year in Atlanta, she would need to serve the remaining time on her sentence, which could be about nine months.

Brown’s co-conspirator and former chief of staff Ronnie Simmons was released from a halfway house earlier this year.

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