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Judge extends Corrine Brown fraud case to Nov., allows lawyers to withdraw

On Tuesday, Corrine Brown faced an increasingly familiar problem in her federal case.

What to do now that another legal team decided to separate from her, as her third set of lawyers did last week?

As it turns out, another continuance — to the November trial term — was granted.

And her lawyers were, in fact, allowed to withdraw.

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Mark NeJame and David Haas filed motions to withdraw last week, citing a hostile dynamic between the NeJame Law Firm and the Jacksonville congresswoman of 23 years — and 22 indictments.

And the hearing was intended to resolve that motion, salient in the light of Brown’s continually changing lawyers.

Going into Tuesday’s hearing, Brown had already lost Bill Sheppard and Betsy White, then Greg Kehoe.

Haas, in testimony Tuesday in court, would not discuss the dynamic in open court, citing attorney-client privilege, preferring to do it “in camera.”

NeJame said “this puts us in an awkward situation,” noting that they moved so quickly to withdraw since they “realized there was a conflict.”

The timeliness of the motion is part of the inquiry; the merits, another, said Judge James Klindt, noting the trial was supposed to commence Oct. 3.

“You are now the third set of lawyers who have appeared on behalf of Ms. Brown,” Klindt noted.

Brown also has talked about financial woes plaguing her, as she attempts to assemble a “lean, mean team” to mount her defense in the One Door for Education case.

The hearing was moved to an “in camera” basis; the media was excused from chambers, during an hourlong discussion between Brown, her lawyers, and the judge.

The prosecution addressed the motion to withdraw. The government’s concern is that the case has been pending for six weeks; the representation issue needs to be settled, with “realistic deadlines.”

As well, Ronnie Simmons’ lawyer, said the prosecution, likely will request a continuance.

Judge Klindt noted that this time frame to resolve the question of counsel is “unusual,” but he is convinced of Brown’s good faith in attempting to assemble a defense team in a timely way.

“This is just one of those cases where it may take more time than other cases for the representation issue to be settled,” Klindt said.

Klindt was bearish on the concept of a court-appointed attorney, and likewise rejected the idea Brown was trying to represent herself.

Brown, said her attorneys, was going to require another one-month continuance until the November term, even as their motion to withdraw was to be granted.

The trial was set for Nov. 17 at 2 p.m.

She would be able to use that time to finalize her counsel situation.

The prosecution noted that Simmons’ attorney would likewise want a continuance, and that there may be a conflict with his representation as well.

The next conference in this trial is Sept. 7 at 3 p.m.

Brown and her counsel are required to attend.

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After the hearing, Brown and NeJame presented a united front, with NeJame saying the tension documented in the motion to withdraw was a dispute between friends … seemingly a far cry from the pitched language of the motion to withdraw.

NeJame added he and Brown “go back a long way,” and that he is helping with Brown selecting representation that isn’t so personally close to her.

“It’s best for her not to have somebody she’s so close with,” NeJame said.

NeJame said, contrary to reports, that she does have enough money to bring on new counsel.

Brown, in comparison to previous media appearances of late, was cordial and politely answered questions from the press, saying that her campaign was going well.

Corrine Brown, John Rutherford make pitch for last-minute funds

New 48-hour contribution reports show good news for two Northeast Florida political veterans.

Corrine Brown brought in $4,500 recently for her cash-strapped campaign in Congressional District 5, according to her most recent 48-hour contribution report.

Rep. Maxine Waters donated $1,000 of that, though the big donor in the most recent report was Irene Lazarra of the Lazarra Family Foundation, who gave $2,500.

Brown’s total is slightly ahead of that of Al Lawson in recent 48-hour filings.

Lawson’s $4,000 included money from the Fraternal Order of Police.

As of the Aug. 10 pre-primary report, Lawson had over $120,000 cash-on-hand, while Brown languished at just $24,600.

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In Congressional District 4, meanwhile, frontrunner John Rutherford is making a last-minute dash for cash, with another $7,000 coming in Aug. 22.

In addition to a previous $18,000 of funds, that gives Rutherford $25,000 of new money with just a week left before the Aug. 30 primary.

Rutherford, as of the Aug. 10 “pre-primary” report, had $136,000 cash-on-hand, though some of that was earmarked for the general election.

Lenny Curry: if pension referendum passes, collective bargaining will be quick

If County Referendum 1 passes in Jacksonville, unlocking a sales tax extension dedicated to the city’s $2.8 billion unfunded pension liability, Mayor Lenny Curry says collective bargaining could be done within months.

“My plan is to have it done by spring,” Curry told a crowd at the Chamber’s ImpactJax event Monday evening.

The timeframe is intended, Curry added, to accommodate the city’s budget cycle.

Curry reiterated his belief that if one pension plan agreed to terms, thus unlocking the revenue guarantee created by pension reform and the associated half-cent tax extension, the other plans would be pushed by their members to negotiate in a similar spirit.

Due to the nature of collective bargaining, Curry is not able to dictate the terms of the plans, but says he wants them to be “market-based,” while still being able to assure new public safety and other employees that they have a secure future.

Curry also contended “additional upgrades” in Jacksonville’s municipal debt will be likely if the pension issue finds resolution, and “if the debt is upgraded, interest rates go down,” which would save the city money on borrowing.

In addition to reassuring the markets, Curry contended a resolution to the pension issue would create an impression of “regulatory certainty” for companies looking to relocate to Jacksonville, and would have a “tremendous impact on the marketing of our city.”

Curry also addressed the pitfalls of the past regarding the city’s pension contributions, saying that “when the market performed really well, the city did not pay in the required amount.”

This happened, Curry said, for a “number of years.”

Advocates for the referendum contend the internal polling is strong ahead of the Aug. 30 referendum, in what looks to be a disproportionately GOP electorate … good news for the Republican mayor.

As of the end of Monday, 11.44 percent of registered Republicans had already voted in the primary, while a mere 8.5 percent of registered Democrats had voted.

Even with Democrats, a potential hurdle was removed last week, when Rep. Corrine Brown left the referendum blank on her Quick Picks cheat sheet for voters.

Running on empty: send money now, says Corrine Brown

We broke the story last week of Corrine Brown reporting under $25K cash on hand for her campaign, and we also got her to admit, in a profanity-peppered presser, that her campaign was underfunded, and her legal issues were contributing further to her financial malaise.

Now, with the end almost near, Rep. Brown is taking to Blogspot with a fervent plea: Send money now!

“I’ve never liked asking for campaign contributions, but to keep my campaign moving forward I’m respectfully asking you to make a contribution by clicking here,” Brown wrote Monday.

Political “contributions are the gas that fuels political campaigns,” says Brown, “and our gauge light is flashing red.”

With penury on the horizon, Brown reminds her supporters that her opponent, Al Lawson, is getting Republican cash, sourcing our blog to prove it.

“To make matters worse, a recent report in the Florida Politics blog shows that the same Big Money Republican groups backing Donald Trump and Gov. Rick Scott have poured thousands of dollars into the campaign of my ‘Democratic’ challenger Al Lawson,” Brown writes. “It’s easy to understand who Al Lawson would work for in Congress. It won’t be you.”

Lawson, for whom Brown appeared at a fundraiser four years ago, was once Senate Democratic leader, but he has billed himself as someone who can work on both sides of the aisle.

Brown had Martin Luther King III in town this weekend, and Rep. Barbara Lee on Monday, but if their appearances are driving fundraising, it’s not showing up as of yet in Brown’s 48-hour contribution reports.

If the desperate blog is any indication, Brown’s realizing that she needs money quickly. And that realization, against the backdrop of her lack of counsel as she faces, along with her chief of staff, 24 federal counts.

The congresswoman from Florida’s 5th Congressional District, along with Chief of Staff Elias Simmons, face 24 charges between them, enumerated in a 46-page indictment, related to conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud and related issues surrounding the One Door for Education scheme.

The federal government alleges between late 2012 and early 2016, the defendants were involved in a “scheme and artifice to defraud,” a conspiracy driven by One Door head Carla Wiley who gave the checkbook and debit cards for One Door accounts to Simmons.

The feds allege Brown, Simmons, and Wiley exploited Brown’s membership in Congress to solicit fraudulently and receive hundreds of thousands of dollars of payments on the pretense they would be used for charity.

Brown has a hearing Tuesday afternoon at the federal courthouse in Jacksonville.

It would be a good bet that media will ask her about this issue and everything related to it.

Foreclosure, back taxes linger in congressional candidate L.J. Holloway’s record

Much of the attention in the Democratic primary in Florida’s 5th Congressional District is on incumbent Corrine Brown’s fighting 22 counts related to the One Door for Education charity. And, more recently, to challenger Al Lawson and his campaign taking money from traditional GOP sources.

However, there is a third candidate in the race: the underfunded Lashonda Jewell Holloway, who has just $1,175 on hand.

In Holloway’s Florida Times-Union questionnaire, she claimed she’d never been sued, arrested, or had declared bankruptcy.

While that technically may be true, Holloway has experienced financial issues in recent years that are now in the public record.

Those financial issues relate to a foreclosure and to delinquent property taxes from 2015.

Holloway had a foreclosure that was closed last month, resulting in a final judgement and a $90,000 bank account garnishment.

Also, Holloway has a rental home in Sherwood Forest, but owes $3,357 in delinquent 2015 property taxes on her Duval County homestead.

We reached out to Holloway Sunday to get her perspective on these issues, talking to someone in her campaign office Sunday morning, with the hope of getting an interview to clarify these matters Sunday evening, after the candidate had finished visiting churches in Tallahassee.

Regrettably, the interview was not scheduled on Holloway’s end.

After reaching out to Holloway’s personal number Monday morning, Holloway informed FloridaPolitics.com that “this is not the time to call,” advising us to call her campaign office — as had been done 20 hours before — to schedule an interview.

Holloway has worked in the city government in Washington, D.C. — serving as director of documents for a year in the mayor’s office — and that approach to phone calls is familiar to anyone who ever dealt with governmental agencies in the nation’s capital.

That said, it brings readers no closer to understanding the issues behind Holloway’s back taxes and foreclosure judgement.

Holloway has run her campaign, which started last October, on a shoestring.

While the candidate has not self-funded at all, worth noting is that Helen Holloway, undersigned as a pro se third-party defendant in the foreclosure judgement of July 25, has donated $2,700 (or almost a fifth of the $16,097 raised by the Holloway campaign since October 2015) to the candidate.

Cash infusions for John Rutherford, Al Lawson down the stretch

With a week left in early voting, Congressional District 4 Republican John Rutherford is working to ensure he has the money to compete against the better-funded Hans Tanzler, with some personal loans and donations over the last week totaling $18,000.

All of these contributions came in after the pre-primary report on Aug. 10.

Aug. 16 saw Rutherford give his campaign $10,000, with $1,000 coming from a contributor.

Aug. 17 saw another $1,000 come his way. And Aug. 19 saw $6,000 come in via $1,000 checks.

Rutherford had $136,000 on hand at the end of the pre-primary period, though much of that was earmarked for the general election.

Opponents Hans Tanzler (with $82K cash-on-hand) has seen no new money come in during the same period, though Lake Ray (with $68K COH) scored $1,000 from Curtis Hart.

Meanwhile, in Congressional District 5, Al Lawson brought in $4,000 of new money since the pre-primary report ran, while incumbent Corrine Brown has brought in nothing.

The highlight of Lawson’s latest contributions: $1,000 from the Fraternal Order of Police, which looks comfortable with Lawson ahead of GOP nominee Glo Smith.

Lawson has over $124,000 COH now; Brown, under $25,000.

Duval GOP turnout exceeds 10 percent with week left in early voting

2012 — the previous presidential year — saw Duval County with a 20.7 percent turnout among both parties.

With a week left in early voting, the GOP turnout looks likely to exceed that number; as of the end of Sunday, 10.46 percent of all Republican registrants had voted.

The real point of interest is what is driving heavier GOP turnout, after an almost-two-month period in which GOP registration grew by 6,000 to exceed 215,000.

If donor interest and crowd interest at last week’s television debates are meaningful indicators, what may be driving turnout is the closed primary for state attorney, in which incumbent Angela Corey faces challenger Melissa Nelson.

Between them, the two candidates have raised over $800,000 in hard money, with another $781,000 on the political committee side … making it the most expensive race on the regional ballot except for the seven-way GOP primary in Congressional District 5.

Democratic turnout is lagging behind that of the GOP.

Of the 230,529 Democrats in Duval County, just 17,600 (or 7.63 percent) have voted.

This split could reflect to some degree the movement of motivated voters to the GOP side for this election, abandoning Corrine Brown and sidestepping subpar slates of state House candidates in Democratic districts.

In the 64 precincts in largely Democratic Jacksonville City Council Districts 7 through 10, a mere five see totals of over 10 percent.

To compare, five of the 16 precincts in largely GOP Mandarin District 6 have totals of over 10 percent.

Tuesday hearing slated for latest Corrine Brown lawyer withdrawal

Tuesday at 2 p.m. sees yet another procedural hearing in the Corrine Brown federal case, regarding the motion to withdraw from her latest attorneys, Mark NeJame and David Haas.

On Thursday, Corrine Brown’s lawyers in her federal case regarding One Door for Education — a charity she was associated with that functioned more as a slush fund, according to prosecutors — abruptly motioned to withdraw from representing her after just two days, citing “irreconcilable differences.”

This is the third loss of legal representation Brown has had since the July indictment, raising real questions as to what kind of defense can be rendered, especially since the latest set of lawyers lack the gravitas of the previous two (Bill Sheppard/Betsy White and Greg Kehoe, respectively.)

NeJame’s firm was hired before last Tuesday’s status of counsel conference, replacing Kehoe, who lasted exactly one court appearance before withdrawing.

“The relationship … has quickly deteriorated to the point of having irreconcilable differences … and the relationship is strained … an atmosphere of hostility and distrust not conducive to further representation. Furthermore, a material and significant difference of opinion exists as to case management and the needs of counsel to properly prepare with the client and the client’s availability,” Haas wrote.

The prosecution, for its part, intends to raise the issue of whether Brown should have counsel appointed to her.

Brown, in a pyrotechnic press availability Thursday that saw her make a comparison of her charges to false allegations of pedophilia among journalists, discounted the possibility of having a court-appointed lawyer, saying that she doesn’t talk to the prosecutors.

In case there was any doubt about her devotion to the questionable parallel between the indictment against her and such allegations, she returned to the comparison of her plight to allegations of pedophilia in a perhaps ill-advised blog post to the Florida Press Corps on Friday.

The congresswoman from Florida’s 5th Congressional District, along with Chief of Staff Elias “Ronnie” Simmons, face a combined 24 charges, enumerated in a 46-page indictment.

Brown faces a possible 357 years in prison and $4.8 million fine if all counts are found valid, as well as almost $900,000 in restitution.

Theories of her difficulty in maintaining a lawyer include a lack of funds and attorneys telling her to strike a plea bargain, a proposition perhaps coded in Haas’ language in the motion to withdraw.

When asked about her anemic $25,000 cash-on-hand in the campaign, and the loss of a third set of lawyers on Thursday, Brown said “yes,” she was having a cash issue.

“It’s a very challenging balance running a campaign and [paying] legal bills,” Brown said, “but I’ve done everything I need to do to campaign.”

Of course, Brown had another issue regarding her campaign Saturday, with a 99-year-old woman telling a story of being stood up by the congresswoman, who allegedly was going to pick her up in a limo and take her to a supporters’ breakfast.

Brown’s camp did not respond to a Saturday afternoon request for comment.

Corrine Brown promises 99-year-old woman breakfast, stands her up

On Saturday morning, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown attended a breakfast fundraiser for her re-election campaign headlined by Martin Luther King III.

Unfortunately, not everyone who expected to be at the event was there.

Virgie Coleman, a 99-year-old woman Brown met during a visit to the Lane Wiley Senior Center where Coleman volunteers three times a week, was not there.

Why does Coleman’s absence matter?

Because Brown, after taking photographs with Coleman, told the almost-centenarian that she would be picked up Saturday morning for the breakfast. Coleman says Brown told her a limousine would pick her up at 9 a.m..

Coleman woke up at 5 a.m. to get ready.

“I was on time, bathed, dressed,” Coleman said.

She dressed  in her best outfit, one appropriate for meeting dignitaries. She put on pantyhose and everything else a woman of her generation might wear when dressing to impress.

However, as 9 a.m. rolled around … and then 10 a.m … and then 11 a.m., it became clear Congresswoman Brown would not deliver.

Twenty-five people waited to see Coleman picked up.

But, like Coleman, they were left disappointed.

Coleman says she gave Brown’s “secretary” her phone number. Brown didn’t call.

Coleman, who has been a Democrat her entire life, told FloridaPolitics.com when we spoke with her that she still hoped Brown would fulfill her commitment.

Brown responded to this story on her blog Sunday.

“I promised Virgie Coleman – a wonderful volunteer at the Lake Wiley Senior Center — I would have a driver pick her up on Saturday to attend a special campaign breakfast event in Jacksonville,” Brown wrote, adding that there was a “miscommunication within the campaign and [we] dropped the ball.”

“I’m extremely sorry that we disappointed Ms. Coleman. I’m also very grateful that Ms. Coleman graciously accepted our apology,” Brown added.

However, it wasn’t quite that clean, says Jan Bartell, who was with Coleman on Saturday.

“She was promised to be picked up in a limousine for breakfast at 9:00 a.m., not by a stranger at two.”

Brown did dispatch someone, Bartell claims, who was told to “pick [Coleman] up, get her something to eat, and drop her back home.”

Corrine may deliver. But she clearly doesn’t pick up.

“It was terrible. All those people waiting in the heat for three hours,” Bartell added.

 

Al Lawson, Annette Taddeo outraise and outspend opponents ahead of Dem primaries

Congressional candidates Al Lawson and Annette Taddeo out-raised and outspent their Democratic Primary opponents over the last two months, according to newly filed campaign finance reports.

Lawson is running against longtime Democratic Rep. Corrine Brown in Florida’s 5th Congressional District, which was redrawn to run from Gadsden County in the west to Jacksonville in the east.

The former Florida senator netted about $49,000 in contributions between July 1 and Aug. 10, and spent $102,000, leaving him with about $120,000 on hand. Brown’s report shows about $14,000 in contributions and $89,000 in spending for less than $25,000 in the bank Aug. 10.

Among Lawson’s contributions was a $1,500 check from Sachs Media head Ron Sachs, and a $1,000 check from Tallahassee lobbyist Brian Ballard. U.S. Sugar also donated $2,500 to the campaign. Brown’s 14 contributions included $250 from former Florida Rep. Cynthia Chestnut.

In Florida’s 26th Congressional District, Taddeo, the Democratic nominee for lieutenant governor two years ago, raised $151,000 and spent $525,000 during the reporting period, leaving her with $248,000 on hand. Former U.S. Rep. Joe Garcia, who held the seat from 2013 through 2015, raised $69,000 and spent $175,000 for an on-hand total of $306,000 on Aug. 10.

Taddeo picked up numerous small-dollar donations from Emily’s List, as well as through the Democratic fundraising platform ActBlue.

The winner of the CD 26 primary will face Republican Rep. Carlos Curbelo, who is sitting on nearly $2 million in campaign cash. The new CD 26 has a slight Democratic majority and voted plus-11 for Barack Obama four years ago. The new CD 5 has an overwhelming Democratic majority and will go to the winner of the Brown-Lawson race.

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