A.G. Gancarski, Author at Florida Politics - Page 5 of 364

A.G. Gancarski

Juror drama swirls in aftermath of Corrine Brown verdict

Could juror drama and input retroactively affect the verdict of the Corrine Brown trial after all? Could it play into a motion for a new trial?

With drama swirling relative to certain jurors, there is reason to wonder, with Brown’s lawyer voicing oral motions to interview jurors.

While the oral motions were denied, written motions were invited by Judge Timothy Corrigan.

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There are three corporations that control television news in Jacksonville: First Coast News, Cox Media Group, and Graham Media.

They compete for viewership — and compete to be “first” among stories, including how outlets decided to skirt the order and break prohibitions on broadcasting from the courtroom. However, Monday saw these rivals present a united front regarding a matter from the trial of Corrine Brown, which wrapped last week.

Multiple Jacksonville TV stations filed motions over the weekend to unlock a controversial transcript of a bounced juror in the Corrine Brown trial, and to permit contact with discharged jurors – both conditions prohibited by Judge Corrigan.

In this case, the matter of the discharged juror is salient to what happened afterwards.

To recap: a juror expressed concerns about a certain juror discussing what was called “higher beings” in concordance with Corrine Brown, and after a closed emergency hearing Wednesday morning, the juror talking about the spiritual realm was removed.

A day later, Brown was found guilty of 18 of 22 counts, once an alternate replaced the spiked juror.

This sudden evolution in jury mood raised questions, and Judge Timothy Corrigan mulled them Monday, via motions from all three outlets that covered the same ground.

The motions note a lack of “compelling” reason to keep the transcript sealed, especially given that the trial is now concluded, and given that counsel has no objection to the transcript being open.

Corrigan noted, to the delight of media, that the transcript from the discharged juror will be open – leading to a media feeding frenzy once the hearing ends.

“It’s well-established that the media has interest in these matters,” Corrigan said, allowing the television media and the Florida Times-Union to move forward with its reportage.

The court, Corrigan added, lacks a “legal basis” to prohibit press contact with jurors, barring specific claims of harassment.

Less certain: Corrigan’s dispensation on releasing the jurors’ names.

An attorney for one of the media corporations contended that issues, such as jurors being threatened because of their verdict, don’t exist in this case; Corrigan contended that media seems to know who the jurors are.

As well, Corrigan noted that practice is to redact names and identifying information, potentially exposing jurors to scrutiny.

The motion, Corrigan said, will be taken under advisement.

“I’ll follow the law,” Corrigan said, regarding releasing them and the timeframe in which such release is made.

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Meanwhile, a “compelling” reason to open the transcript – and to open up further inquiry into the jury – was offered by Brown’s attorney, James Smith, who suggested that the issues with the jury may come into play in his expected motion for a new trial.

Smith got an email from one of the jurors saying that the juror had “something that might help your appeal” on Saturday evening.

Smith brought it to the attention of the court, he said, as “this particular juror” was “crying” after a recess, which he and Corrine Brown noted.

“The juror reached out with some information,” Smith said, and he would like to talk to the juror and find out what was going on.

Prosecutor A. Tysen Duva said that at this point, the court should do nothing, given court rules barring testifying about jury deliberations afterwards, and given that this retroactive testimony could be “extraneous, prejudicial information” and likely would be inadmissible after the fact – an attempt to undermine an unpopular verdict.

“If we ever get to that point where the court permits such an interview,” Duva said, it would happen in open court.

“At this point, we don’t know what motivated the juror to reach out to Mr. Smith,” the prosecutor added.

Smith wanted to interview the juror nonetheless, as the juror reached out “after the events of previous jurors took place.”

Smith’s theory: the internal juror dynamics could be the issue … as could be “outside interference.”

“At least at a minimum, I should be able to have an interview,” Smith said.

Corrigan noted such exceptions are “rare,” with “well-stated grounds.”

“I am disinclined at the moment to think those legal grounds are present,” Corrigan said, inviting a written motion (“a more detailed brief with case law”) from Smith that could make the argument more salient.

Smith also pressed to allow Corrine Brown to talk to the media, which led Corrigan to note that any restrictions no longer exist.

“There is no legal restriction on you talking to the media,” Corrigan said to the former Congresswoman.

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Beyond these issues, even more juror drama exists in this case.

FCN ran a leaked letter asserting that Brown’s attorney, James Smith, disputed the “higher beings” phrasing ascribed to the discharged juror, asserting rather that the juror claimed that “God” asserted Brown’s innocence to him, and that assertion was not contradicted by the evidence.

“Despite what you may have heard in the news reports he did not make any references to ‘higher beings,’” Smith wrote.

“He said that prior to the trial God had told him that the Congresswoman was not guilty and that after listening to the evidence and hearing closing arguments he still believed that she was not guilty,” Smith added.

“Despite the fact that there was no evidence that the juror was interfering with deliberations and stated that he was ultimately basing his vote on the evidence and the instructions, the judge decided to kick him off,” Smith was quoted as saying by FCN.

As Smith prepares a motion for a new trial, it will be interesting to see how all this juror drama plays in. He told us that this issue, and the court’s handling of it, merit closer investigation.

Drama is still swirling, in fact, regarding the discharged juror: a claim “on the news” that the discharged juror didn’t vote guilty “because the Holy Spirit told [him] so.”

This claim was made via text to a court officer, Judge Corrigan said.

Smith noted that the drama could speak to other issues, “providing the basis for some other post-trial motions I could file,” especially in light of “ambiguity” and the potential of outside influences.

If the original claim of the discharged juror’s religious mania is “not true,” Smith said, that raises other questions.

Corrigan countered that the dismissed juror admitted to making the statements that proved to change the entire narrative of the trial itself.

“The basis of the court’s decision to dismiss the juror ultimately is what the juror told me,” Corrigan added.

Corrigan, referring to the transcript, noted the juror’s alleged position that a “higher being” said that Brown was innocent on all charges.

“No, I said the Holy Spirit told me that,” the juror said, according to the transcript. “I mentioned that in the very beginning when we were on the first charge.”

Corrigan advised a written motion to firm up Smith’s argument to guide his decision.

“My decision now is to not do anything about this juror communication,” Corrigan said.

Florida/Georgia football game extension clears first Jacksonville City Council panel

Those who might worry that the Florida/Georgia football game will leave Jacksonville anytime soon can rest a bit easier, as the City Council is about to approve an extension of the agreement for the city to host the Florida/Georgia football game until 2021.

The legislation (2017-322) cleared Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services on Monday morning, its second committee stop before Finance on Wednesday morning.

Each team gets a guarantee payment of $250,000 per year, plus a one-time signing bonus of $125,000 upon contract execution, and $60,000 annually for travel and lodging.

Jacksonville can recoup that money by programming events at the amphitheater and the flex field; the schools don’t get a piece of that action.

In NCIS, some questions were raised for Dave Herrell, the head of Sports and Entertainment.

The city is committed to buy $1,000 tickets according to the deal, Herrell confirmed.

A $500,000 base payment, Herrell said, was required to keep the schools happy — and this is part of the package of neutral-site games.

While terms on the renewal sound sweet to those on the outside, Herrell called the game an “incredible branding opportunity … a win/win.”

“The Georgia/Florida game is in our DNA,” Herrell said, with “branding exposure” and “good ROI” galore.

“Other communities covet events like this,” Herrell said, noting that places like Atlanta pose threats with new stadiums.

Also obligatory: maintaining a minimum seat capacity of 82,917, which requires the installation of temporary seats — a hard cost of $2.1M in 2016.

After the 2018 game, Herrell said work would begin on the extension.

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Beyond direct recovery of the investment, there also are more holistic benefits to the larger economy: $35M of them, according to a post-game analysis.

The 2016 iteration of the game saw a diverse array of programming options around the event: a number of University of Florida basketball games, the Florida/Georgia Hall of Fame Ceremony, and even a concert by the Avett Brothers put on — events designed to appeal to the kind of people willing to camp out in Jacksonville’s “RV City” for days on end.

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Back in 2016, Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry discussed the importance of re-upping the deal, a negotiations process he said was rooted in “relationships 101.

Curry added that on his second day of office, after the inauguration festivities, “one of the first calls [he] made” was to the schools’ athletic directors.

“Our team got to work on it,” Curry said. “We are about solving problems and getting things done.”

“The biggest obstacle,” said Curry, was that there “hadn’t been activity in recent years.”

The Curry administration had to “demonstrate how much we care,” the mayor said, “spending time and showing commitment.”

“Blocking and tackling … that’s Relationships 101.”

For Curry, the kind of football fan whose television is as likely to be turned to the NFL Network as a news program, there simply was no room for error — the deal had to be done.

And if this deal clears the full Jacksonville City Council, the game is on lock throughout the rest of the decade.

Extra annual pension payment for Jacksonville? One councilman wants it

For those of you who thought Jacksonville was done with pension legislation, hold the phone.

Jacksonville City Councilman Danny Becton introduced a bill last week that would mandate 15 percent of budgeted money over a baseline budget would go to the city’s $2.8B unfunded pension liability.

“An amount equal to 15% of the General Fund/ General Services District aggregate increase in budgeted revenues (net of transfers from Fund Balance) over the baseline amount of $1,088,466,862 in FY16-17 [would] be used to make additional payments to reduce unfunded accumulated actuarial liability on the City’s three defined benefit pension plans,” reads the bill summary.

“The additional payments will continue until either the FY29-30 fiscal year or the commencement of the pension liability surtax established in Ordinance Code Chapter 776, whichever is earlier,” the bill summary adds.

The expectation is that budgets will increase: raises, mandated as part of the pension reform deal of 2017, would add up to a $120M hit on the general fund by FY 2020. Of course, 15 percent of $120M is $18M — serious money, and a commitment that hearkens back to the 2015 pension reform legislation that was largely revised by the latest deal.

The pension reform bill put forth at the end of Alvin Brown’s administration committed the city to increased pension payments over a twelve year period, with the number for most of that period being an extra $32 million.

Even in 2015, when the accord was being finalized, there was an unspoken consensus that things would get really interesting once that $32 million extra hit kicked in.

electricity generation

Sunset for TRUE Commission? Committee week for Jax City Council

Committee week for the Jacksonville City Council kicks off Monday, and a number of bills are ready for up or down votes.

Among the fun ones: a sunset date for a certain commission … an extension of the Florida/Georgia game … and clarification of builder guidelines for bicycle parking.

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Sunset for TRUE Commission: Councilman Tommy Hazouri has been unhappy with the Taxation, Revenue Utilization and Expenditures Committee for much of his term – and Hazouri filed a long awaited bill to reduce the membership of the commission from 18 to 11 before the commission’s sunset in June 2020.

In 2016, Hazouri – vexed over the TRUE Commission’s opposition to expanding the city’s Human Rights Ordinance – told Florida Politics that he didn’t see the point of the appointed body.

More recently, TRUE was in the news because of the bizarre behavior of a nominee, Mike Anania, who attempted to “bully” Rules Chair Garrett Dennis … according to Dennis.

Rules hears this bill Tuesday; Finance on Wednesday. If it clears committees, the full Council takes a whack at the piñata.

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Florida/Georgia extension: For those who like having the “World’s Largest Cocktail Party” in Jacksonville, take heart – the City Council is about to approve an extension of the agreement for the city to host the Florida/Georgia football game until 2021.

The two committees set to approve the legislation (2017-322): Neighborhoods, Community Investments, and Services on Monday morning, and Finance on Wednesday morning.

Each team gets a guarantee payment of $250,000 per year, plus a one-time signing bonus of $125,000 upon contract execution, and $60,000 annually for travel and lodging.

Jacksonville can recoup that money by programming events at the amphitheater and the flex field; the schools don’t get a piece of that action.

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Bicycle parking: Ordinance 2017-245 is intended to make Jacksonville more bicycle-friendly, by replacing “outdated … difficult” ordinance with clearer language directing commercial property developers to set aside parking for bicycles.

Dorms, convents, mobile home parks, and so on will have clarified parking set-asides for bicycles.

This bill will be heard by Transportation, Energy and Utilities Monday, and Land Use and Zoning Tuesday evening.

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3 year Florida Bar suspension for Andrew Gillum’s ‘best friend’?

Attorney Chris Chestnut was described as Tallahassee Mayor Andrew Gillum‘s “best friend” by Gillum’s own brother.

If a referee’s report in an ongoing legal action between the Florida Bar and Chestnut is any indication, Chestnut will have more time for play dates with the Democratic gubernatorial candidate soon.

The referee — Hernando County Judge Curtis Judson Neal — stopped short of recommending permanent disbarment, but did recommend a three-year suspension of Chestnut from the Florida Bar.

Part of Neal’s reasoning: Chestnut had already been wacked by the Supreme Court in 2015 for a previous disciplinary action.

Aggravating circumstances, per the referee’s report, include “clear and convincing evidence” of “civil theft” by Chestnut, multiple Florida Bar rules violations, “refusal to acknowledge wrongful nature of conduct,”  and “vulnerability of the victims.”

Political committee set up for Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams

Get to know “A Safe Jacksonville.”

That’s a new political committee set up in Tallahassee on behalf of Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, who only has to think back two years for a reminder of how competitive and expensive the race for Jacksonville Sheriff is.

Williams plowed through six opponents in the first election before narrowly defeating Democrat Ken Jeffersonwho may be looking at a rematch (and, say some, may be looking at a City Council run). Whatever the case, Williams and his team are clearly taking no chances.

Chairing the committee: Kent Stermon, the COO/CFO for “Total Military Management,” a Williams friend and confidant who was finance director for Williams’ 2015 campaign, in which he raised $541,000.

Williams, the choice of former Sheriff John Rutherford, had no issue fundraising. But the state committee allows Williams to get a head start on any opposition, with the latitude to undermine any competition that might emerge.

This is especially essential in a sheriff’s race like 2015 was, where oppo dumps flew from each side daily. Williams, handling law enforcement in the city, won’t have to do any of the dirty work — that can and will be done on the committee level, allowing Williams to co-brand with Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry.

Curry, whose political committee (“Build Something That Lasts”) is very active, won’t face serious competition. And neither will Williams.

Even if Jefferson runs against Williams, reliable sources point out that there is plenty of oppo dump material that wasn’t even used in 2015 — which was a brutal campaign by most measures.

Corrine Brown trial coverage: GUILTY on 18 counts; motion for new trial pending

Former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown faced myriad federal counts related to conspiracy to defraud via what prosecutors call a fake charity: “One Door for Education.” Those charges include conspiracy to commit and aiding and abetting wire and mail fraud, and multiple counts of fraudulent filing of federal tax returns.

FloridaPolitics.com delivered deep-dive coverage of the entire trial: jury selectionopening statements; the government’s case, including exhibits and witnesses; the defense testimony, which mostly comprised of Corrine Brown on the stand; closing arguments; jury deliberation; the final verdict; and everything else that matters.

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After deliberation started Monday and spilled over into Thursday afternoon, a jury returned a unanimous verdict in the case of former United States Congresswoman Corrine Brown.

With 22 complex counts, it was inevitable that deliberation would take hours, if not days. It took three full days for the jury to resolve the multiple issues related to tax fraud, wire fraud, mail fraud, and conspiracy in what was the political trial of the century in Northeast Florida.

Brown was found guilty on 18 total counts, which sets her up potentially for a prison sentence of over 300 years, and fines and restitution in the millions of dollars.

On Count 1 — conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud — the jury ruled that Brown was found guilty of mail and wire fraud both.

Counts 2 through 17 involved mail fraud and wire fraud. Counts 2 through 8 — mail fraud — come down to shipments of checks via FedEx; counts 9 through 17 — wire fraud — involve interstate wire transfers, emails, et al.

Graphics detailing these counts can be found below.

Counts 2 through 8 saw Ronnie Simmons and Carla Wiley at the other end of the mail solicited from donors, with the biggest pitch being for a check upward of $28,000 from a single donor.

The jury ruled that Brown was guilty on five of the seven counts: 2, 4, 6, 7, 8.

On Counts 3 and 5, Brown was not found guilty.

Counts 9 through 17 saw Simmons soliciting checks from donors on some, with some “pass-through” transactions reflected in some counts, through the Alexander Agency — the agency of former Brown part-time employee Von Alexander.

The jury ruled that Brown was guilty on seven of the nine counts: 9, 10, 11, 12, 13, 15, 17.

She escaped a guilty verdict on Counts 14 and 16.

On Count 19 — scheme to conceal material facts on Congressional financial disclosure forms — the jury ruled that Brown was guilty.

Count 20 — scheme to conceal material facts — was predicated on “underreporting income” and “bogus” charitable deductions. The jury ruled that Brown was guilty.

Counts 21 to 24: four tax counts. 21 is to “obstruct and impede the due administration of Internal Revenue laws”, with false tax returns from 2012 to 2014 constituting the final three tax counts. Brown was found guilty on all.

Brown will not be imprisoned immediately, Judge Timothy Corrigan said. A sentencing hearing will be months down the road.

Brown exited the courthouse before 3 p.m., looking shaken as she was walked to a black Mercedes, pushing through a phalanx of cameras and mikes like Moses parting the Red Sea.

But there were no miracles for Brown. Only a helicopter overhead and a half-dozen supporters yelling “We love you, Corrine, no matter what!”

Brown’s lawyer, James Smith, said this is just part 1 of the process. While Brown “respects the verdict,” he will file a motion for a new trial.

Smith wouldn’t comment on the jury or the venue — two potentially dispositive factors in this case.

And, with no light in his eyes whatsoever, the Orlando lawyer said that “it may seem like the end of the game, but it’s really the first quarter.”

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Here’s what jurors considered:

By the numbers: The government claims that over $800,000 was raised from defrauded, duped donors. Of that, $330,000 of One Door money went to Corrine Brown events. And $141,000 of shady cash deposits coursed into her checking account from pass-through sources from 2009 to 2015.

Cash me outside: The government’s case is predicated on donor testimony, which boils down to Brown obliquely pitching the charity as a way to give to her, for reluctant Republican donors who wanted to give outside of normal campaign finance. They sought access; they got it.

But were donors actually defrauded? The defense has asserted that no promises were made saying that all donor money would go to scholarships for underprivileged children. And that Brown delivered on some charity — both directly and indirectly (via rainmaking) at these events.

Born to roll: With friends like Corrine Brown had, who needed enemies? Old staffers, ranging from former co-defendant and chief of staff Ronnie Simmons to former Jacksonville staffer Von Alexander, contend that Brown orchestrated cash deposits from One Door into her own account. Brown denies this.

Conspiracy theory: Brown’s take? They’re trying to destroy my life!” Brown contends that staffers handled her finances, and handled her taxes and the Congressional financial disclosure forms — thus giving her plausible deniability when it comes to not knowing why hundreds of thousands of dollars of shady pass-through money funded a lifestyle that often cost $10,000 more in a given month than Brown made.

Reasonable doubt: Can Brown convince one juror that she is not provably guilty? Can she do that on all 22 counts she faces? Brown’s defense has been predicated on the emotional appeal, with her saying, over and over again, that she would never have taken money from the scholarship fund for her own expenses. She’s pinned the blame on Ronnie Simmons. Will jurors buy it?

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The counts:

Count 1: conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud.

Counts 2 through 17: mail fraud and wire fraud. Counts 2 through 8 — mail fraud — come down to shipments of checks via FedEx; counts 9 through 17 — wire fraud — involve interstate wire transfers, emails, et al. Graphics detailing these counts can be found at the bottom of this piece.

Counts 2 through 8 saw Ronnie Simmons and Carla Wiley at the other end of the mail solicited from donors, with the biggest pitch being for a check upward of $28,000 from a single donor; Counts 9 through 17 saw Simmons soliciting checks from donors on some, with a number of “pass-through” transactions reflected in some counts, through the Alexander Agency — the agency of former Brown part-time employee Von Alexander.

In the cases of Alexander and Simmons, the alleged co-conspirators have asserted they did their deeds at Brown’s behest, and they felt they “couldn’t say no” — thus constituting a conspiracy, in the government’s argument, with Brown atop.

Count 19: scheme to conceal material facts on Congressional financial disclosure forms — which failed to reflect Brown’s “extra income” from One Door and other pass-through sources.

Count 20: scheme to conceal material facts on tax forms — predicated on “underreporting income” and “bogus” charitable deductions to various Jacksonville nonprofits. The donation inflation was big: over $27,000 a year between 2009 and 2015 (off $6,600 a year of actual, provable charity).

Counts 21 to 24: four tax counts. 21 is to “obstruct and impede the due administration of Internal Revenue laws,” with false tax returns from 2012 to 2014 constituting the final three tax counts.

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What’s next: Jury deliberation continues. 

Rob Bradley touts big appropriations for Clay County in new budget

There are winners and losers in every budget process, and Sen. Rob Bradley asserted Thursday that Clay County was a winner this year.

“It was a challenging session,” said Bradley. “I’m incredibly proud of what the Clay County legislative delegation was able to accomplish for this community.”

Bradley, chair of the Appropriations Subcommittee on the Environment and Natural Resources, pushed for and got recurring funds of $13.3 million earmarked for water replenishment in the St. Johns River and Keystone Heights Lake Region.

We reported on this issue earlier this year.

“After years of researching and talking and planning, we now have actual funding to start addressing the needs of these wonderful natural resources that define our region,” Bradley remarked.

Another Clay County project with regional importance: $135M for the First Coast Expressway, increasingly necessary as Northeast Florida continues to grow and face transportation capacity challenges.

Melissa Nelson rolls out juvenile civil citations MOU

Fulfilling a campaign promise from 2016, 4th Circuit State Attorney Melissa Nelson rolled out on Wednesday an initiative designed to increase the use of civil citations for juvenile offenders, via a memorandum of understanding among various local and regional agencies.

“This new agreement for pre-arrest diversion will expand and enhance the juvenile civil citation program uniformly throughout the circuit,” read a release from Nelson’s office.

Speakers and stakeholders abounded at the event, including Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, Jacksonville Sheriff Mike Williams, Duval County Public Schools Superintendent Nikolai Vitti, and Fourth Judicial Circuit Chief Judge Mark Mahon.

The use of civil citations was something controversial in the 2016 campaign, with then-incumbent Angela Corey more agnostic on them than Nelson was.

Nelson, devoted to a restorative justice model rooted in 21st century theory rather than that of previous eras, has promised a reform agenda.

And on civil citations, she is delivering.

Jacksonville City Council candidate Ron Salem scores big in April fundraising

Jacksonville City Council candidate Ron Salem, running to replace termed-out John Crescimbeni in At Large Group 2, had a third straight month of strong fundraising in April for his 2019 race.

The latest number: $20,875 — the third straight month over the $20,000 threshold. The April haul pushes Salem’s total over $78,000.

Among April contributors are names Jacksonville political watchers will know.

Maxing out with $1,000 donations: John Baker; J.B. CoxwellPeter Rummell; local accident lawyer Eddie Farah, and Jacksonville Chief Administrative Officer Sam Mousa and his wife.

Going $500 deep: Jacksonville lobby group Infinity Global Solutions, Husein Cumber,  Mike Hightower and the political committee of Jacksonville Mayor Lenny Curry, “Build Something That Lasts.”

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