Corrine Brown Archives - Page 7 of 33 - Florida Politics

James Smith is latest Corrine Brown lawyer; trial likely delayed until 2017

The big reveal from Wednesday’s hearing for Corrine Brown included a new defense lawyer, and likely a new trial date.

Despite the fact that Congresswoman Brown’s political career appears to be over, she and key exponents of her political machine still have a show to put on in federal court.

To get there, however, hurdles have to be hopped.

Among those was who will represent the congresswoman in court?

Brown’s Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons was allowed to keep his lawyer as of Wednesday morning. This, despite judicial and prosecutorial protestations that his Orlando barrister had a conflict of representation that possibly could preclude effective representation.

A question still remained. Who would represent Rep. Brown in the One Door for Education trial? Her previous attorneys walked off the case, citing an unworkable atmosphere of “distrust.”

On Wednesday, shortly before her 3 p.m. hearing, a notice of appearance was filed for James Smith, an Orlando attorney.

Smith, a former Army JAG lawyer and FAMU law professor, has almost seven years of experience as a federal public defender.

Smith confirmed he is on this case for the duration.

The hearing Wednesday addressed various housekeeping matters, including disclosure of Brady materials and a protective order from July.

The big question: would the trial start as scheduled in November?

Simmons’ attorney, said Judge James Klindt, wanted to push the trial back to the first quarter of 2017.

“I wouldn’t take it off the November calendar,” Klindt said, but added that a status conference Oct. 11 at 2 p.m. might be the occasion for pushing the trial back as the co-defendant’s lawyer wanted.

Smith stated he preferred a trial in the first quarter of 2017 — then after the hearing amended that, saying “sometime in early spring.”

The prosecution said, meanwhile, there was a “joint desire” for a February commencement.

After the hearing, material differences between the approaches of Smith on behalf of Brown and Anthony Suarez on behalf of Simmons were revealed almost instantly.

One major one: Suarez said “95 percent” of cases end in plea deals, implying that One Door for Education may end up that way. On the other hand, Smith flatly said “there’s not going to be a plea deal in this case.”

Another important one: while Suarez left open the possibility his client may be interested in a plea, Smith held firm.

“We emphatically deny all the charges,” Smith said, adding that “the timing of these charges influenced the election.”

Worth watching are further divergences between Brown and Simmons, which could become more apparent as their professional relationship (as congresswoman and chief of staff) runs its course by January.

Stakes are high for the co-defendants, who face 22 and 18 counts respectively of a total 24.

Brown faces a possible 357 years in prison and $4.8 million fine if all counts are found valid.

For Simmons, it would be as many as 355 years and $4.75 million, if guilty of all counts.

For now, the trial is left on the November calendar.

Ronnie Simmons’ lawyer sees ‘some weak spots’ in One Door for Education prosecution

There is a lot of uncertainty about the One Door for Education case, in which Rep. Corrine Brown and her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, are co-defendants.

As of Wednesday afternoon, it is still uncertain whether or not Brown has a lawyer.

That will be resolved, theoretically, by 3 p.m.

And it is still uncertain when this case, which now involves a sitting congresswoman without a campaign, will go to trial.

One thing is for sure, however; co-defendant Simmons does in fact have an attorney.

Overcoming objections posed by the prosecution and the judge, Simmons was allowed to retain Orlando barrister Anthony Suarez, in spite of Suarez having represented, on a “transactional” basis, one of the grand jury witnesses in this case: Orlando consultant/lobbyist LaVern Kelly.

Kelly essentially filled a role that Von Alexander did in Jacksonville for Rep. Brown, as a conduit between the congresswoman and her donor base.

After Wednesday’s hearing, Suarez talked with Jacksonville media about where he sees this case, including fielding questions on the likelihood of Simmons turning on his boss, Simmons’ beliefs of his own guilt or innocence in this matter, and why he doesn’t believe he can represent Simmons and Brown in tandem.


Regarding the alleged conflict, Suarez had the following to say.

“I know the testimony [from Kelly]. I know what she said. If there had been a conflict,” Suarez said, “I wouldn’t have taken the case.”

While the charges his client faces — 18 counts unique to him, with a potential penalty of well over three centuries in prison if all are upheld in court — are “very serious,” Suarez wonders “do they have all the facts?”

Though most observers still envision the theatrics of a jury trial, Suarez notes that “95 percent” of cases — local, state, and federal — are “settled by plea.”

Suarez doesn’t know if this will be one yet or not, as 77,000 pages of “discovery is voluminous.”

“There are always possibilities for a plea deal,” Suarez said.

However, less possible: Simmons turning on Brown.

“I don’t see that as a possibility.”

Also an increasingly remote possibility is a trial anytime soon in this case.

Suarez’s best guess: February, which if that were the case, would push the trial into the next CD 5 congressperson’s term.

Simmons has told Suarez that he is innocent, and for his part, Suarez is confident.

“I know where the case is going to go,” Suarez said, and there are some “weak spots in the case” from the prosecutors.

Corrine Brown COS disregards counsel conflict, retains Anthony Suarez

The world of political influence is a small one, and a conflict in Congresswoman Corrine Brown‘s sphere was brought to light Wednesday in court.

This particular conflict illustrated the intersection of Brown’s charitable and political endeavors, providing further evidence of the blurred lines between the two relative to the federal “One Door for Education” trial.

The end result: the lawyer for Brown’s Chief of Staff Elias “Ronnie” Simmons will be retained, despite the fact that he represented a prosecution witness, an Orlando lobbyist/consultant by the name of Lavern Kelly.

Kelly has some history with Rep. Brown, having “actively been a consultant in all of Congresswoman Corrine Brown Successful Campaigns for Congress over the last 20 years. In 2010 due to Lavern Kelly efforts as general consultant the Congresswoman successfully won 90 percent of the votes in three counties [sic],” according to her National Coalition of Black Women online biography.


Simmons, chief of staff for and co-defendant with Rep. Brown, was in federal court in front of Judge James Klindt Wednesday morning, hours before Brown’s own hearing in the same courtroom.

The reason? A potential conflict regarding Simmons’ lawyer.

Simmons’ lawyer, Anthony Suarez, had previously represented Kelly of KNA Services, a conflict that precluded Suarez from cross-examining her, said prosecutors.

Suarez’s former client would, in fact, be a witness at trial, the prosecution confirmed Wednesday morning.

Suarez called Kelly a friend, but said the prior representation was a “transactional relationship” that presented no conflict for him.

Simmons’ strong preference — despite objections of the prosecution and extensive caveats from Judge Klindt — was to keep Suarez as his counsel.

Klindt affirmed prosecution’s contention that the prior relationship of witness Kelly and attorney Suarez did meet the threshold of conflict of interest, with “inconsistent interests” between the her and the defendant being a distinct possibility.

Assistant U.S. Attorney A. Tysen Duva noted the confusion last month regarding the status of Simmons’ representation, describing Kelly as a “consultant/lobbyist,” who had a longstanding relationship with Brown and her office.

Simmons had “emailed communications” with Kelly, who would “push out information about events or purported fundraisers” in the Orlando market to donors and the like, Duva said.

“It seemed like the communications were at the behest of Congresswoman Brown,” Duva said, with Simmons as a conduit for “information” from Brown to donors.

Kelly, said Duva, was to testify that Simmons had used a particular AOL email address for communications, with more focus on her own relationship with Rep. Brown.

“There were times when this individual sort of assisted donors [to] One Door for Education,” Duva said, with Simmons providing guidance for the routing of funds.

Despite Duva’s cautions and Klindt’s qualms, Suarez was undeterred.

“I do not foresee from a legal point of view that there is anything that would impede my ability to be an aggressive advocate,” Suarez said.

Suarez has known Kelly for “many many many years,” and considers her a friend, he said.

Kelly’s firm has a long history in Orlando.


Judge Klindt explained how attorney-client privilege in his representation of Kelly came into play, requiring a “continuing obligation of loyalty” to her, and potentially forcing cross-examination of this client.

“Suarez’s zeal to represent your interests,” Klindt told Simmons, could be compromised.

“He may not want to make her look like a liar, when making her look like a liar would help you,” Klindt said, before outlining other potential impacts of conflict, including a plea deal.

Klindt also suggested a potential defense Simmons could use is lack of knowledge of the operations of One Door, a defense Kelly could undermine, but without cross-examination it could stick.

As well, Klindt suggested that a jury, were it to dislike Kelly, could feel the same about Simmons.

None of this deterred Simmons.

“I don’t see it being a problem whatsoever,” the defendant said, affirming such a desire even at the potential expense of less than “effective counsel” and comparing this situation to “going into a heavyweight bout with one arm tied behind your back.”

Klindt wouldn’t take yes for an answer, continuing to outline potential impacts of the conflict … including Simmons being “forever barred” from objecting retroactively to counsel conflicts.

After more discussion, Duva relented, satisfied all potential impacts of conflict had been discussed.

Then, after a recess, Klindt brought up more potentially adverse scenarios for Simmons’ defense.

Among them: potential communications about “where donations should be sent,” which could have included Simmons’ home address.

This “testimony could potentially be more damaging to you,” Klindt said to Simmons.

And the potential admissibility of “statements of co-conspirators” could come into play also, Klindt said, outlining how that could impact Simmons’ defense.

Unmoved by these hypothetical scenarios, Simmons reaffirmed his desire for Suarez to defend him, even at the expense of potentially being found guilty and being barred from using such as a grounds for appeal.

A waiver of potential conflict was presented to Simmons and he signed it in open court.

Given the “limited nature of the testimony of Ms. Kelly,” and the “very short period of time Suarez represented this witness,” and a preponderance of other corollary factors along these lines, Klindt agreed to Simmons’ request to keep Suarez as his attorney.


Simmons and Brown face between them 24 counts related to One Door for Education, a charity which used Brown’s likeness and endorsement to secure donations that were, at the very least, not dispersed under its own name.

The congresswoman from Florida’s 5th Congressional District, along with her chief of staff, face a combined 24 charges, enumerated in a 46-page indictment back in July.

Brown faces a possible 357 years in prison and $4.8 million fine if all counts applicable to her are found valid.

For Simmons, it would be as many as 355 years and $4.75 million, if guilty of all counts applicable to him.

The estimated restitution for Brown would be $833,000 — plus $63,000 in tax — roughly $897,000. For Simmons, the number would be over $1.2 million.

Brown will be in court at 3 p.m. Wednesday to address her own lack of counsel, one created when Orlando attorneys Mark NeJame and David Haas withdrew from her case.


Two counsel hearings loom Wednesday in Corrine Brown One Door for Education case

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown and Ronnie Simmons, her chief of staff, will be at the federal courthouse in Jacksonville Wednesday for separate hearings regarding their counsel — or lack thereof — in the blockbuster One Door for Education case.

Simmons’ lawyer, Anthony Suarez, may have a conflict that precludes him from representing Simmons. In a different matter, Suarez represented a prosecution witness, and the feds assert this would disqualify the Orlando barrister from cross-examination.

Simmons’ hearing is slated for 10 a.m. on Wednesday.

Brown, meanwhile, lost her third set of lawyers days before she lost her primary.

Though Mark NeJame, the lead of the last firm to abandon the defense of the embattled congresswoman, took great pains to represent the quickly dissolved legal relationship as an amicable parting of the ways, the court filing preceding NeJame leaving the case told a different story.

“The relationship between the undersigned and Corrine Brown has quickly deteriorated to the point of having irreconcilable differences. The nature of these communications are confidential, but suffice to say, irreconcilable differences exist and the relationship is strained where effective representation is compromised,” wrote David Haas, who was representing Brown, along with NeJame.

“As a result, it has created 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 added.

NeJame and Haas claimed last month that they were helping Brown get new lawyers, as part of what the congresswoman has called a “lean, mean” team.

Brown will be in court at 3 p.m. Wednesday.

Corrine Brown chief of staff’s hearing on his legal counsel pushed back to Sept. 7

Whether it’s the tropical weather or the fact that his boss and co-defendant is slated to have a hearing on her own situation with counsel, the hearing scheduled for Elias “Ronnie” Simmons (chief of staff for Rep. Corrine Brown) has been pushed back from Thursday to Sept. 7.

Brown’s hearing, regarding her own lack of counsel and plans to resolve that, was scheduled already for Sept. 7 at 3 p.m.

As of Thursday morning, the two hearings are not expected to be combined into one, which creates a “doubleheader” of sorts for watchers of this case.

Simmons’ lawyer had represented a grand jury witness in another action, precluding his ability to cross-examine. Meanwhile, Brown’s latest attorney — Mark NeJame — left the case last month, after filing a motion to withdraw alleging hostile and unproductive communication.

NeJame then muddied the narrative by talking about the difficulties of representing friends at and after the hearing, likening the dissolution of legal ties to an amicable breakup.

Brown and Simmons face 24 federal counts related to the allegedly fraudulent One Door for Education charity, including charges related to mail fraud, wire fraud, failure to disclose income, false donations to charity, and failure to report monies on tax returns.

Brown faces a possible 357 years in prison and $4.8 million fine if all counts are found valid.

For Simmons, it would be as many as 355 years and $4.75 million, if guilty of all counts.

The estimated restitution for Brown would be $833,000 — plus $63,000 in taxes — roughly $897,000. For Simmons, the number would be over $1.2 million.

With Tuesday’s loss in the Democratic primary, Rep. Brown and Simmons will have more time to focus on mounting a defense.

A rundown of the winners and losers from northeast Florida’s primary elections

The northeast Florida primaries have been in the books for almost 24 hours at this writing. A review of the winners — and the losers — goes beyond the election returns to look at what happened to create these outcomes that will, in historical retrospect, seem inevitable.


Lenny Curry — The chattering classes told him he couldn’t get County Referendum 1 through without making promises to police and fire unions, the African-American community in Northwest Jax, or the beaches. He proved them wrong. Curry — the former party boss — was able to party like a boss Tuesday night, after a resounding 65 to 35 victory authorized extension of the Better Jacksonville Plan tax (with a healthier margin than John Delaney could ever have imagined back in the day). That victory was a result of coalition building: Council Democrats and elder statesmen from the opposing party (including former Sheriff Nat Glover) helped make the pitch. The poll numbers got better for the referendum, and even a seeming misplay like hosting the Donald Trump rally didn’t even hurt Curry … in fact, it reassured Republicans that even though it’s One City, One Jacksonville, the mayor is still a capital-R Republican.

Cindy Graves — Graves was made Duval GOP chair to right the ship after the underwhelming Lake Ray era — and she did just that. Graves is exceedingly comfortable with the Trumpian GOP, and just as comfortable with John Rutherford as the CD 4 Congressman for as long as he wants it. Worth watching: how much face time The Donald gets in Duval in September and October.

Susie Wiles — The BIG winner of Election Night? She was integral in the “Yes for Jax” push. She was also integral in helping to introduce Al Lawson to Jacksonville media. Lawson, who couldn’t buy a Democratic endorsement in the 904, got 20 percent in Duval … in part because of a strong TV ad, but also in part because Wiles crossed party lines to help out a friend to her firm, Ballard Partners. Wiles won’t be around as much for the next little while: she’s moving on to an expanded role in the Trump campaign, helping with “battleground communications.” The smartest political operative in Jacksonville history?

Kim Daniels — The demon buster goes to Tallahassee! Daniels won the Democratic primary in House District 14 over a better-funded candidate, Leslie Jean-Bart, who had commercial radio spots and the endorsement of the incumbent. Daniels, who wasn’t exactly a legislative whirlwind on the Jacksonville City Council during her single four-year term, found a way to connect with the people in her district, which made all the difference.

Bert Ralston — The political consultant for Clay Yarborough kept his candidate’s uniform clean in a competitive HD 11 race, in which Yarborough (a former Councilman) faced off against another former Councilman Don Redman, as well as former state legislator Stan Jordan and City Council assistant Terrance Freeman. Despite a big push of outside money against him, Yarborough’s combination of ground game and name identification won him the race. No big surprise; just fundamentals.

Reggie Fullwood — He had considered not running for re-election once 14 indictments dropped on April 15. But he did it anyway, even though he had three primary challengers. He managed to take the focus of the race away from those legal issues and put it on his strength, constituent service. Fullwood, with six years in Tallahassee, preceded by eight on the Jacksonville City Council, believes he can get the federal charges thrown out. Time will tell on that one; his motion to dismiss, filed Aug. 19, still has not been acted upon.

Brian Hughes and Tim Baker — The most polarizing consultants to ever work Northeast Florida? You bet. Just as people clucked at and criticized their ability to go in on Alvin Brown when Lenny Curry beat him for mayor, they issued the same criticisms of how Hughes/Baker sold County Referendum 1 and attacked Angela Corey. Who’s laughing now? They got the referendum — which most observers thought wouldn’t pass — approved by 30 points. And Corey went down to Melissa Nelson by almost 40. It’s called Data Targeting for a reason; they are able to target messages to audiences, time and again, that are receptive to them. The referendum was sold not by targeting super voters, but by engaging medium-propensity voters who had skin in the game of living in Jacksonville. Often misunderstood by the media and more timid political types, these guys understand better than anyone — including the people paying the bills — how to sell a political message in Northeast Florida. Their marketing for the tax extension referendum will be studied by operatives in other cities who are attempting to sell similar proposals. Notable also: they were behind John Rutherford doubling Hans Tanzler‘s vote total with half the money Tanzler had. And they also ended the political career of Dick Kravitz, who lost to their candidate in HD 16 despite coming into the race with vastly superior name identification.


Polarizing incumbents — It doesn’t help, it turns out, to run for re-election in a redrawn district with 22 federal counts hanging over your head, and then compare that indictment to verbal charges of sexual deviancy among reporters. It also doesn’t help, it turns out, to run for re-election after a grand jury recommends that you leave office, saying that the voters will decide. And it doesn’t help, it also turns out, to become the walking emblem of how “tough on crime” policies go horribly wrong. Rep. Corrine Brown, Public Defender Matt Shirk, and State Attorney Angela Corey can speak to that. The latter can also speak to how even Republican primary voters can see the closing of primaries as bad faith, especially when it’s done in the most flagrant way possible. Brinkmann v. Francois may be sound legal precedent; but for voters who like to believe that in the process of democracy, it’s a bad look for a candidate who faced trust issues from a huge part of the electorate already. Corey was disqualified by voters before the first PAC ad went in on her. And a big reason? The prevailing perception of bad faith in that office.

Law-n-Order messaging — In the dying days of the Angela Corey campaign, there was a co-branding with the interests of the Fraternal Order of Police, and a constant refrain that Melissa Nelson couldn’t make the tough decisions to put someone to death. Corey’s closing TV spot, which was a bit too closely coordinated with her PAC, actually made that case. Jacksonville, a very conservative metro, is not irrational when it comes to the application of the death penalty. Corey took it as far as it could go. And she was repudiated in a closed primary by a GOP electorate. Look for the police union to reboot its talking points between now and January.

JaxBiz The Jacksonville Chamber’s PAC played heavily in state House races and got smoked. While Jason Fischer won HD 16, other candidates (Donnie Horner in HD 11, Terrance Freeman in HD 12, Leslie Jean-Bart in HD 14, and Katherine Van Zant in HD 19) lost. As did Duval County School Board candidate Greg Tison, running to succeed Jason Fischer (an endorsed candidate who did win) but unable to make the runoff. Not a good look for the chamber’s political activism. Worth watching: how Daniel Davis is positioned next year in Tallahassee … And for that matter, as mayoral material in the post-Curry era.

Audrey Gibson and Mia Jones  Both of them came out late in the game against County Referendum 1, saying they didn’t support the regressive tax that is the sales tax. They claimed they were misrepresented as endorsing the plan. And they got rolled. Gibson and Jones backed two candidates for the state House who also got shellacked: Gibson and her protégé, Councilman Garrett Dennis, supported Tracie Davis against Reggie Fullwood in the HD 13 primary that Fullwood won. And Jones? She was in heavy rotation the local urban adult contemporary radio station in ads for her endorsed candidate, Leslie Jean-Bart, who lost the HD 14 primary to the “demon busting” former Jacksonville City Councilwoman, Kim Daniels, who will win the November primary and have eight very quotable years in Tallahassee.

Duval DEC — Along with Gibson and Jones, they invested political capital against CR 1, with a mailer late in the game that probably didn’t do much to mitigate a 30-point loss for the referendum.

Front Line Strategies — a mighty big loss for Hans Tanzler defined the primary season for Doster and his posse. Tanzler had more money than every other serious candidate in the CD 4 race combined, especially when a quarter-million dollars of PAC money was folded in — and the results? Anticlimactic. A lot of red meat spots were served up to burnish Tanzler’s creds as a new-school Ted Yoho, and to make the implausible case that former Jacksonville Sheriff John Rutherford was a “liberal.” They even floated an internal poll at the end that showed a positive trend that didn’t pan out, as Tanzler came in third behind Lake Ray. A spectacular flameout.

The Van Zants — Charlie Van Zant lost his bid for re-election as Clay County Schools superintendent, with allegations of plagiarism and other issues dogging him, and with the teachers’ union supporting his opponent. Katherine Van Zant lost her bid to succeed Charles Van Zant as the GOP representative in House District 19, after reports of issues with a homestead exemption dogged the final days of her campaign. A family that weeks ago was synonymous with power in Clay County now finds itself on the outside looking in. On the positive side, though, they at least have more time for home renovation now.

Janet Adkins — Her run for Nassau County School Superintendent ended with an embarrassing defeat to Kathy Burns by a 2-to-1 margin. And the candidate Adkins backed in the House District 11 race, Sheri Treadwell, fell to Cord Byrd. Adkins, famous last summer for being recorded while talking about how the remapped Congressional District 5 would adversely impact Corrine Brown, is now a footnote.

Corrine Brown after loss: ‘You know they’ve been after me for years’

As Rep. Corrine Brown prepares for her life after elected office, a role she’s been in since 1982, she offered meditations in a blog post Wednesday.

Brown, who lost her primary in the reconfigured 5th Congressional District by nine points, framed the electoral loss not as a “defeat,” but a “setback.”

Brown was not able to completely avoid framing the loss in the context of her larger personal struggle.

“We fought a battle with one arm tied behind our backs. You know they’ve been after me for years. Tuesday they won a battle,” Brown wrote.

Brown, who had excoriated Lawson for his support among the GOP political and donor class in recent weeks, dialed down the rhetoric in her post-election epistle, writing that she hopes the Democratic nominee “will focus on serving the needs of the people and not the big campaign contributors.”

“All of us prayed for an election victory on Tuesday. Just because we didn’t get what we wanted doesn’t mean He didn’t hear us. It just means He didn’t give us the answer we wanted to hear,” Brown wrote.

With Brown’s electoral battle over, attention turns to the battle she and her chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, face in federal court.

The next status hearing for Brown set for Wednesday, Sept. 7 at 3 p.m. in courtroom 5D of the federal courthouse in Jacksonville.

More immediately, Simmons faces a hearing regarding a conflict in his representation. His lawyer, it turns out, had represented a grand jury witness in another action, precluding his ability to cross-examine.

That hearing is slated for Thursday at 1 p.m, in the same location as every hearing thus far in this case: courtroom 5D, Jacksonville federal courthouse.

Brown and Simmons face 24 federal counts related to the allegedly fraudulent One Door for Education charity, including charges related to mail fraud, wire fraud, failure to disclose income, false donations to charity, and failure to report monies on tax returns.

Brown faces a possible 357 years in prison and $4.8 million fine if all counts are found valid.

For Simmons, it would be as many as 355 years and $4.75 million, if guilty of all counts.

The estimated restitution for Brown would be $833,000 — plus $63,000 in taxes — roughly $897,000. For Simmons, the number would be over $1.2 million.

Al Lawson wins CD 5 primary; Corrine Brown’s era is over

The Corrine Brown era is over in Congressional District 5.

Brown won two counties: Duval and Columbia.

Lawson won everywhere else.

Former State Sen. Al Lawson defeated the 12-term incumbent and L.J. Holloway on Tuesday, with a margin of 47 percent to 40 percent.

This seemed to be a race that could go either way, with the power of Brown’s incumbency and presence up against Lawson, a political lifer who has been adept with walking the Blue Dog Democratic line.

Heading into the vote, Lawson felt optimistic, telling this reporter earlier in the month that he was up eight points against Brown in Duval County. Meanwhile, a highly placed local Democrat talked to Tuesday morning, spotlighting an internal poll that had Brown ahead district-wide.

Lawson benefited from GOP support, including money from Jacksonville Republican stalwarts (such as Peter Rummell) and introductions being made of the candidate to media by Susie Wiles, the Florida co-chair of the Donald Trump campaign.

Brown, meanwhile, was hamstrung by legal issues. Before deciding to run for re-election in the re-drawn CD 5, Brown challenged the new map in court, saying Jacksonville and North Florida had “nothing in common” in terms of the “communities of interest” that linked her old district.

After deciding to run for re-election, Brown and her chief of staff were hit in early July with a 24-count federal indictment regarding the allegedly fraudulent One Door for Education charity.

The legal battle shadowed Brown in dealings with the media, and in debates and forums. Brown’s contention that the media should let her work speak for her was not taken seriously by the press.

Meanwhile, Lawson — unlike Brown — was on television in the Jacksonville market.

With all of these factors working against Brown, Lawson was able to get traction.

Despite indictment, U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown trying to stay in office

U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown, who more than two decades ago became one of the first blacks elected to Congress from Florida since reconstruction, is battling to stay in office amid a criminal indictment and a revamped district that includes thousands of new voters.

Brown’s fate will likely be decided during the Aug. 30 primary when she squares off against two other Democrats, one of whom is a veteran state legislator who spent decades representing some of the voters in the reshaped district. Republican Glo Smith will run against the winner in November, but the district is solidly Democratic.

The outspoken 69-year-old incumbent is counting on years of using her political clout to bring federal dollars back to her district to help her remain in office.

“The fact is my work speaks for itself,” said Brown during a recent debate in Jacksonville that was live streamed by WJXT, adding that voters “want a member that knows how to get things done.”

But in early July, Brown and her chief of staff pleaded not guilty to multiple fraud charges and other federal offenses that alleged she participated in a scheme to use a phony charity as a personal slush fund. She has contended that the investigation is a “witch hunt” and has chastised the media for focusing on it.

Brown’s fight comes as she tries to introduce herself in a dramatically different district. Brown’s district for years had stretched from Jacksonville to Orlando and included various minority neighborhoods in between. But after a lengthy legal battle, the Florida Supreme Court late last year approved new congressional districts that shifted her district westward from Duval County all the way to Gadsden County west of the state capital.

Brown tried to get a federal court to throw out the revamped district, but after losing her legal battle she filed for re-election. By that time there were others in the race, including former state Sen. Al Lawson and Lashonda Holloway. Holloway is a onetime congressional aide who runs a health care consulting firm.

Lawson, who mounted an unsuccessful bid for Congress four years ago, is well-known in the western counties of the revamped district since he spent 28 years in the Florida Legislature. The 67-year-old has been an insurance agent and in recent years a lobbyist. He maintains his ability to forge alliances in a GOP-controlled Legislature will help him in Congress.

“People are hurting, they really want leadership,” Lawson said. “They also want a leader they can trust. I felt like I have had no scandals in 27 years.”

If elected, Lawson would represent a different voice for the district. Brown has stood with Democrats on gun control and has been quite vocal about Florida’s decision to refuse to expand Medicaid eligibility. But Lawson is not in complete agreement with other Democrats on some gun issues and criticized Brown’s decision to participate in a sit-in on the House floor to protest the handling of gun legislation. He has lobbied on behalf of groups that have pushed legislation to help families obtain private school vouchers.

Republished with permission of the Associated Press.

New Republicans could be the x-factor in Duval County primaries

Here’s what we know about the primary in Duval County, as of the close of Early Voting on Sunday.

Turnout, thus far, is at 14.14 percent.

Of the Democrats, 33,210 of 230,529 — or 14.6 percent — have voted.

Meanwhile, of the 215,025 Republicans registered, 40,423 — or 18.8 percent — have voted.

Of the 120,124 NPA voters, 6,470 have voted thus far. A modest number, driven by the solar amendment and the pension tax.

Obviously, turnout skews Republican, which can be analyzed one of two ways.

One interpretation: the Corrine Brown turnout machine, needed more this year than any other given the shifting of her district, didn’t exactly work in high gear.

Brown closed the pre-primary period with $24,600 on hand, and did bring in money afterwards — though not enough, given that she put $20,000 of her own money (money likely needed for her legal fight) in on Aug. 26.

“Souls to the Polls” Sunday, a traditionally Democratic turnout operation, saw 7,425 voters heading to the polls … roughly 10 percent of the total turnout.

The second interpretation: much of the swing can be attributed to Democrats becoming Republicans for this primary, solely to vote against two embattled incumbents: Angela Corey for state attorney and Matt Shirk for public defender.

Given that roughly 6,500 Dems became Republicans this year, with roughly 4,000 in the weeks leading up to the primary according to News 4 Jax, that group of presumably motivated voters could have made the difference in turnout.

The open question in that context is will that swing affect races elsewhere on the ballot?

From a competitive primary in Congressional District 4, to state House races in House Districts 11, 12, and 16, there are Republican races for open seats that hang in the balance.

House District 11, where Janet Adkins is leaving, sees a three-way race between Donnie Horner, Cord Byrd, and Sheri Treadwell.

HD 12 sees Clay Yarborough and Terrance Freeman both closing strong in the race to replace Lake Ray.

And the most expensive race for the State House in Northeast Florida is in HD 16, between Jason Fischer and Dick Kravitz. The winner seeks to replace Charles McBurney.

These new Republicans aren’t pollable in the same way as the “likely voters.”

They aren’t able to be targeted in the same way, especially with mailers targeted toward high-propensity voters.

Thus, turnout changes, driven by closed primaries in two regional races (the 4th Judicial Circuit encompasses Duval, Nassau, and Clay counties), may be an X factor in races that otherwise may be more predictable.

These temporary Republicans aren’t going to be moved, necessarily, by the red meat of the mailers.

And there is scant evidence of candidates in these state House races making a play for crossover votes.

Never mind races like the primary for clerk of court, between incumbent Ronnie Fussell and underfunded challenger Mike Riley, who wants to see courthouse wedding ceremonies reinstated.

Or the ultimate in insider baseball: races for committeeman/committeewoman slots, which see Peret Pass and John Scott facing off against a slate of candidates, at least some of whom (allegedly) were put up to running by opponents Karyn Morton and John Craft to clog the ballot.

Perhaps these new Republicans will mean nothing in the end in these races.

Then again, perhaps these new Republicans could be the margin of victory.

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