Day 1 of jury selection wraps: “It’s a tedious process,” said Judge James Klindt about jury selection.
The first day is a wrap, with myriad jurors struck of those questioned – 18 dismissed for potential bias, and others excused for hardship purposes.
A second day of jury selection, meanwhile, kicks off at 9:00 a.m.
44 jurors, said Klindt, will be coming back Tuesday – 36 in total are needed.
If a juror can’t get a ride from out of town, it may be 43.
“44 gets pretty close,” Klindt said, to what is needed – but the goal is 46-50 jurors, to winnow them down to the needed number.
An additional ten jurors, give or take, will be called in, and the judge is optimistic that will complete jury selection on schedule.
The difficulty in finding unbiased jurors was spotlighted further, as the first of two anticipated days of jury selection in the Corrine Brown trial continued, with one juror coming from over 100 miles away.
Such distance was necessary, given familiar plaints: television media, said one longtime Jacksonville resident, educated her on the case.
“Multiple charges … scores of witnesses being called,” along with questions of where the charity’s money went and if Brown was “aware it was happening.”
Old history – such as “gifts given to Brown” decades ago, including a car given to Brown’s daughter Shantrel – also colored the potential juror’s perception, via “years of news media.”
“After a long period of time,” she added, “media sinks in.”
“I know there was wrongdoing done at some point,” the potential juror said. “I find it hard to believe that she was totally unaware.”
And she was struck.
From there, the next eight potential jurors all had been influenced by pre-trial publicity.
“I’ve just heard the name and there would be a trial and it was on the news,” said one potential juror, who had first heard about the case three weeks prior.
That low baseline of knowledge was enough to keep her from becoming the twentieth juror to be struck.
The next person to be questioned had knowledge, of sorts, coming into the case, via television news.
“Spending and money and things like that,” he said.
As well, the gentleman – who works in the educational system – has heard various different takes.
“Some say it was politics,” he said.
The preponderance of input led him to question his own objectivity in the matter.
“You can’t set that aside and listen with an open mind,” Judge Klindt asked.
After some prodding, the potential juror agreed he could do that.
Prosecutor Duva, mindful of the “beyond a reasonable doubt” threshold, asked for more clarification of the potential juror’s position.
Despite his struggle with the spoken word, neither attorney moved to strike him.
“As best as I can recall, some corruption in Ms. Brown’s organization,” was another prospective juror’s summation of the TV news stories he’d seen on the case.
Those stories did not form his opinion, he said. However, his wife has always been “quite favorable” to Brown, which led to follow-up questions.
“My wife and I agree and disagree on various issues. I would make a decision based on what I saw in the courtroom,” he said.
And he, likewise, was not to be struck.
“We talk about it almost every day at coffeeklatsch – there’s four of us,” an older gentleman with a law enforcement background said.
The other three opine that Brown is guilty, but not the potential juror.
“If anything happens, we’re not talking about this anymore,” he said.
Those conversations have taught the potential juror that “somebody committed fraud and has been arrested by the federal government and is going to trial.”
As well, news – as recently as Sunday – taught him about the case also.
When asked if his law enforcement background would compromise his objectivity, he said no.
Defense attorney Smith was unmollified, based on the daily discussions of the Brown case among his coffee group.
“Also the fact that he’s a retired police officer who has investigated fraud cases,” Smith said, is a factor.
The prosecutor disagreed, and Judge Klindt wanted to “explore” the potential juror further.
“He gave no indication that he had formed an opinion,” Klindt said.
Another viewer of local news asserted a belief that Brown was “not guilty,” based on her work “in the Senate.”
“What I’ve heard about it on the news. I just don’t know, honestly,” he said when asked if he could be fair in the trial.
He wavered when asked, changing answers multiple times, with his voice breaking at one point.
Both the prosecution and the defense motioned to strike.
Another consumer of print and television news outlined the parameters of the case, noting that he’d read articles on the case the last two days in the local paper.
“I would be less than honest if I said I did not doubt she was innocent based on associates of hers making deals,” the potential juror said, not being willing to guarantee objectivity “based on everything I’ve heard about Ms. Brown.”
By “everything,” the potential juror is drawing on his experience as a lifelong resident of Jacksonville, and he brought up Brown reaching out for sandbags during a hurricane.
“I’ve seen her interviews on television,” he said.
He will continue consuming media about the trial, but will not be part of the jury pool.
“It’s been all over the headlines,” one female juror said about the “fraudulent educational fund” at the center of the case.
Her husband had opinions also.
“Obviously, everyone knows who Ms. Brown is,” she said, but she has no opinion as to Brown’s innocence or guilt.
Her husband: a different matter – he believes she is guilty.
“I think the general assumption when public figures are accused of something is they’re probably guilty,” she said, which runs counter to the presumption of innocence upon which criminal justice historically is predicated.
No strike; she made the cut, after saying she could be impartial.
“Just what’s been in the paper and been on the news,” the final juror to be questioned said about what he’d heard.
His knowledge of the facts of the case: more big picture than detailed.
“Most of it seems it’s against her, not for her,” he said of the coverage. “I’m leaning more towards the guilty.”
The case has come up, he said, in “normal conversation,” and in said normal conversation with a dozen or so people, consensus of Brown’s guilt has emerged.
“There’s a lot of information I’ve already taken in,” he added.
Pre-trial publicity clouds Corrine Brown jury pool [2:45 p.m. Monday update] – Of the 65 potential jurors brought into court Monday morning, six were struck by lunch break (leaving 59 potential bodies). However, the afternoon saw more questions coming forth, as interlocutors grilled potential jurors about any obstructions to their impartiality.
11 more were struck, bringing the total to 17.
As with the previous round of questioning, there seemed to be a tacit agreement that knowledge of the case could be held, as long as it didn’t veer into opinion about the alleged scheme to defraud or of former United States Congresswoman Corrine Brown.
One potential juror noted that she knew the former chair of the Duval County Democrats, and that she was aware of the case from media and conversation.
“It was about the education charity that was set up. How much was raised, how much was put into scholarships, who was involved.”
The juror, in the past, had joked that Brown was “probably guilty.”
Judge James Klindt pressed her on the assertion, and she said she could be fair and impartial.
Brown’s attorney, James Smith, found cause to challenge her impartiality. Prosecutor A. Tysen Duva diverged, saying that she unequivocally said she could be impartial.
Klindt put her on the jury, as she was “sincere” and “credible” in asserting her impartiality.
Another potential juror was impacted by knowledge of publicity (“I follow the news closely”) and a relationship with defense witness JuCoby Pittman from Leadership Jacksonville.
Her receptiveness to that testimony, the juror said, could be weighted in Pittman’s favor.
The potential juror had a deep knowledge of the process of the case, and an opinion that Brown “could potentially be guilty.”
Smith’s cause challenge, striking her from the jury, was successful.
“You just see trolling through newsfeed and see headlines … I think they were fraud charges.”
These words, from a white millennial male “with strong political beliefs [that] weigh heavily on how you see people”, presaged an opinion: “I can’t really say why, but yeah … I would presume that she is guilty.”
“I’ve read a few things … I know that she handed out ice cream to her supporters last week,” he said.
This juror likewise was struck, with Smith calling his response “disturbing” and pointing to “very strong political views” as a red flag.
“It’s been in the headlines … I read the newspaper every day,” said another potential juror.
Once she got the summons, she stopped reading about the case – cognizant that she may be called for this jury.
“I knew there were charges against the Congresswoman,” the potential juror added.
However, the woman had no opinion on Brown’s guilt. And she met with the satisfaction of both attorneys.
“What I do recall is the defendant on the news being shown in a negative light.”
These words, from a man who moved to the Jacksonville area years ago, framed the case for this potential juror, who did also read the front page of the paper.
“A fellow potential juror opened it up beside me … I looked over and saw that jury selection begins this morning,” he said.
His opinion: “the charges and allegations … have been brought with good reason.”
Duva attempted to parse the potential juror’s words, with regard to whether or not he could be objective.
Smith was a bit sharper with his questions, which compelled the potential juror to admit that he wasn’t sure if he could be objective.
A challenge for cause followed, with the state contending the potential juror had “rehabilitated” himself.
The judge went with the defense.
Another potential juror, with her narrative framed from television news, asserted a belief that Brown was guilty because of “things from the past.”
That potential juror would “try” to put aside preconceptions, but could offer no guarantees. The strike, however, was guaranteed.
“If Corrine Brown had been a Republican,” the potential juror said, “she would not be in this court today.”
This quote, from another potential juror, was a reprieve from the parade of people who deemed Brown guilty based on television newscasts.
“I support Corrine Brown … she has been a great Congresswoman, as far as I’m concerned,” the potential juror – active in protest movements – said.
When asked if she could set aside her political beliefs, she said she could – but it would be difficult.
That didn’t convince Duva, who cited the potential juror’s “very strong feelings” for Brown, and requested (and got) a strike.
“I understand that there is a lot of money is gone and someone has taken it … various people want the money back,” said another potential juror.
Her husband has “stronger opinions” on the case than she does, but both believe Brown is guilty.
Despite that, and having personal issues to deal with, she expressed a wavering confidence that she could set aside her opinions – and avoid input from her husband.
That said, if Brown were found not guilty, she would likely have to discuss the matter with her husband … “unless [the judge] decided I could never talk about this for the rest of my life or something.”
A final potential juror brought forth a number of issues, including strong feelings about Brown and knowledge of two witnesses, Steve Pajcic and John Delaney.
He had a hardship as well, as one of two principals in a two-person law firm.
He won’t be part of this trial.
High-profile case influences jury pool [12:30 p.m. Monday update] – As Federal Judge James Klindt worked through the pool of potential jurors, individual questions began before the lunch recess.
These questions illustrated the interrelationship between media, politicians, and the general public in Jacksonville, described by locals often as a “really big small town.”
Much of the questioning, from the judge and the lawyers, came down to trying to ascertain whether a baseline knowledge of the case equaled an inability to be an objective juror.
All told, six jurors (one black, five white) were struck from a 65 person jury pool consisting of 44 white people, 15 African-Americans, and one Asian-American.
One conflicted potential juror cited a local television news operation as having informed him of the case, telling him about “fundraising and funds, stuff like that.”
That information did not influence his opinion regarding Brown’s guilt or innocence. Neither side moved to strike the juror.
A second potential juror cited “different things on the media,” such as Ronnie Simmons “testifying against her,” as his baseline knowledge, accrued “over the last month.”
That juror is “leaning toward the guilty side,” after pre-trial coverage.
Prosecutor A. Tysen Duva asked follow-up questions, and the prospective juror cited Brown’s conduct as a politician as a reason he doesn’t feel comfortable.
That was enough for James Smith, who moved to challenge the potential juror’s inclusion.
Another juror, who had been exposed to publicity and had strong feelings about Brown, was asked to explain.
“I get the newspaper and I read it cover to cover every day … I have already made my decision,” the potential juror said.
“Her chief of staff has already plead guilty … her own daughter will plead the Fifth,” the potential juror asserted.
The son of an FBI agent asserted that “people are brought up for a reason,” asserting a potential conflict on his end.
“It’s hard to be impartial,” he said, “difficult to see the negativity in the news and be unbiased.”
The potential juror told a story of a fraudulent charity, with narrative filled in by television news that has been “out there for I don’t know how many months.”
Smith drilled down in questions, asking whether the potential juror would be biased against an argument that “the FBI is less than trustworthy.”
The potential juror, citing background checks and belief in his father, could not.
“I would side with the FBI,” he said, in what Smith called a “credibility contest.”
Unsurprisingly, Smith advanced a challenge with cause of this potential juror also.
Still another person described social media and local news as factors who could influence his thinking, noting “locker-room talk” about the trial from “friends and coworkers who do have opinions.”
That potential juror is “leaning more toward the guilty side,” based on external input.
That juror likewise occasioned a cause challenge from Brown’s barrister.
Not every potential juror was so conflicted.
And yet another person described the influence of Facebook’s “live feed” on his consumption of case information, regarding “ethical charges” against Brown.
“I think everyone deserves a fair trial,” he said.
Another juror, who had spent time with Corrine Brown in a corporate stadium skybox two years ago, said he could be impartial.
A third juror had had social interaction with Brown at corporate parties over the years.
“I don’t believe so,” the juror said when asked if it would affect her impartiality.
Questions came forth as to whether the juror’s spouse “consulted” with Brown on business matters, but the juror was satisfactory to both the prosecution and the defense.
Still another potential juror was exposed to the case via media, with his sister-in-law telling him “there was a lady caught stealing money, and that’s where you’re going” before jury selection.
He hadn’t given the case much thought beyond that exchange, and said he could be impartial. That was good enough for both attorneys.
Similar questions for various jurors will continue throughout Monday afternoon.
Party of 65: questions for jurors begin [11:15 a.m. Monday] – As the first wave of jurors entered for voir dire questioning, Corrine Brown studied their entrances, pursing her lips and then looking down, as if clearing her visual palate, between each entrance.
Black and white and Asian, old and younger, the jurors entered – many of them dressed in an approximation of court-appropriate apparel.
Of the 65, 49 were white, 14 African-American, and one Asian-American.
After the first few dozen entered, Brown began to stare at them en masse – as if registering that she was looking at people who would decide her fate.
Her eyes registered that rueful glint familiar to those who have covered her in recent months, since the One Door story obliterated her career in Washington.
The 65 potential jurors seated, proceedings moved forward shortly after 10 a.m. Monday, with the foregoing illustrating the difficulty of finding jurors who lacked real, potentially prejudicial knowledge of Brown and the One Door for Education case.
Judge Klindt, a 31-year veteran of the federal bench, noted the threshold for guilt is “beyond a reasonable doubt,” a meaningful distinction in a paper-heavy case rooted in competing and sometimes inherently contradictory narratives.
“Perhaps you have had occasion to be critical of it … but for all its faults, the American justice system is respected throughout the world,” Klindt said.
The jury, said Klindt, would not be sequestered – allowing the members to return home at the end of each day in the trial, which “could spill over into a fourth week.”
When the pool was asked about “extraordinary hardships” that would preclude participation, 13 indicated such.
When asked if anyone knew about the case through pre-trial publicity, 39 hands popped up, some after a delay that suggested deliberating the question.
When members were asked if they knew Trial Judge Corrigan, two hands came up.
Attorneys made their introductions: A. Tysen Duva for the prosecution, who introduced fellow U.S. attorneys and law enforcement; James Smith for the defense, who introduced Corrine Brown, drawing a “good morning” from some potential jurors.
Other jurors answered questions regarding knowledge of people from the FBI, IRS, U.S. Attorney’s Office, and other potential conflicts.
When asked if they knew Brown from a “social relationship,” two of the 65 indicated such.
When asked if any had lent political support or opposition to Brown, no such conflicts existed.
And, when asked if they had “strong feelings” about Brown, three jurors indicated such, though they did not give their disposition in initial questioning.
From there, the roll call of those testifying – another factor which could prejudice jurors.
Among those who were known to jurors: Siottis Jackson, a political operative for Brown; Ronnie Simmons, Brown’s former co-defendant who pleaded out and is cooperating with prosecution; and John Delaney, a former Jacksonville Mayor.
Judge Klindt urged jurors not to discuss the case, including via phone conversations on Blackberry, Snapchat, and other modern-ish conveyances.
Jury selection [9:18 a.m. Monday update]: Jury selection in the trial of former Rep. Brown began at 9:30 Monday morning in Courtroom 13A of Jacksonville’s federal courthouse.
A question going into this phase of the trial for Brown, one of the most polarizing figures in Jacksonville political history, was finding 12 jurors who weren’t aware of who she was and about the parameters of this high-stakes case.
Brown wore all black as she entered the courtroom shortly before 9:00 a.m., her face impassive.
Judge James Klindt kicked proceedings of the Voir Dire phase off, with A. Tysen Duva representing the government and James Smith representing the defendant.
Klindt was charged with selecting the jury, and noted the potential impacts of hardship for the initial 65 person jury pool.
Beyond hardships, knowing lawyers or principals in the case would also be a disqualifying factor, Klindt noted.
Also a potential ground for disqualification: having a strong opinion on Brown, or any knowledge of the case gleaned from the media.
“What I am trying to do is not have answers to these questions taint other jurors,” Klindt noted.
The goal: coming up with 36 jurors, including alternates and potential “strikes” for both sets of lawyers.
“I’m hoping we can come up with 45,” Klindt said, who were not initially disqualified.