The ongoing legal battle between the city of Jacksonville and the family business of Councilwoman Katrina Brown was slated to continue Thursday in the Duval County Courthouse.
However, the defendants failed to show.
The issue Thursday: a “motion to strike” a response in the case from the councilwoman’s mother, which involves two Brown businesses — “CoWealth LLC” and “Basic Products LLC.”
There was a delay in proceedings, as the hearing was moved from one floor to another of the Duval County Courthouse, with uncertainty as to whether or not the Councilwoman’s mother would show.
Notice had been sent out to the defendant, yet there was no sign of her five minutes past the time court was slated to begin.
Court officers looked for Mrs. Brown, but to no avail, throughout the building.
A city of Jacksonville attorney began proceedings without her.
And the city had nothing substantive to add to the motion to strike.
And the judge fulfilled that motion, saying to “allow her to proceed would be to allow her to practice law without a license.”
The motion was struck.
Mrs. Brown was given 30 days to retain counsel and file a response.
CoWealth LLC, one of the Brown family’s group of nebulously named companies, is being sued for $210,000 by the city of Jacksonville for failing to create jobs in a 2011 economic development agreement intended to help the Browns take their BBQ sauce business to the next level.
On Dec. 2, 2016, the city sent one in a series of certified letters to JoAnn Brown, the councilwoman’s mother, stipulating that CoWealth failed to create 56 jobs and maintain them for five years (a requirement of the economic development deal), and that the company failed to provide audited financial statements for the years 2014 and 2015.
CC’d on the letters: Councilwoman Brown, a manager of CoWealth.
CoWealth offered an interesting response to the complaint, asserting that there was a “verbal agreement” with the city’s Office of Economic Development to “dismiss the requirement of submitting audited financial statements for the years 2014 and 2015.”
The Office of General Counsel, when asked about the assertion, said that “since this is in pending litigation status, we can’t comment on the evidence or merits of the case. Future filed pleadings will provide the City’s position.”
Indeed, a filed pleading from the OGC did just that, looking to strike the filing on the grounds that Mrs. Brown, who filed for CoWealth and Basic Products, is not an attorney.
“Mrs. Brown is a managing member of each Defendant, as well as Defendants’ registered agent; however, according to Florida Bar records, she is not an attorney,” read the filing from Jacksonville’s OGC.
“Mrs. Brown’s representation of Defendants in this litigation is impermissible because it is the unlicensed practice of law. Therefore,” the filing continues, “the Answer should be stricken and Defendants should be allowed an opportunity to retain counsel.”
Notable: the Browns actually have a lawyer related to another business facing the same issue.
In late February, “KJB Specialties” hired an attorney specializing in bankruptcy cases to handle a foreclosure action against the building housing “Jerome Brown BBQ.”
That was a precursor to filing Chapter 11 bankruptcy in March.
KJB’s “aggregate noncontingent liquidated debts (excluding debts owed to insiders or affiliates) are less than $2,490,925 (amount subject to adjustment on 4/01/16 and every 3 years after that).”
The city attorney was unaware of any moves toward bankruptcy by either of the Browns’ companies.