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.
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.
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.
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.