A former Congresswoman from Jacksonville changed her plea in a long-standing federal case against her.
Corrine Brown, who represented the Jacksonville area through 2016, pleaded guilty to one count of tax fraud in her felony case that rocked Northeast Florida political circles years ago. She will not head back to prison, but will owe just over $62,000 in restitution to the IRS, per Jim Piggott of WJXT.
Brown had already been convicted on a raft of counts related to her nonperforming One Door for Education charity. But the 11th Circuit Court of Appeal overturned the conviction last year, ordering a new trial. The change in plea will close the door on that prospect and this episode in regional political history.
Brown left office nearly five years ago under the weight of indictment, convicted on 18 counts related to fraud after losing her last election. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, she was released early from her five-year prison stretch. The guilty verdicts stood, however.
Meanwhile, her theory that a pro-Brown juror being eliminated from the jury pool during her original hearing was illegal was roundly derided, until it prevailed in court.
The 11th Circuit Court of Appeals subscribed to the defense’s long-standing theory that Judge Timothy Corrigan wrongfully purged a juror for saying the holy spirit told him Brown was not guilty, invoking religious authorities ranging from Mahatma Gandhi to Martin Luther in a defense of an individual’s right to religious freedom and latitude of expression.
Appeals-court Chief Judge William Pryor wrote that the record of the case “establishes more than a substantial possibility that Juror No. 13 did not forsake his oath and instead was fulfilling his duty. Corrine Brown was entitled to the unanimous verdict of a jury of ordinary citizens. The removal of Juror No. 13 — a juror who listened for God’s guidance as he sat in judgment of Brown and deliberated over the evidence against her — deprived her of one.”
Pryor wrote that the juror repeatedly assured Corrigan that he was following jury instructions and basing his decision on evidence presented during the trial.
“Jurors may pray for and believe they have received divine guidance as they determine another person’s innocence or guilt, a profound civic duty but a daunting task to say the least,” Pryor wrote. “The district judge was wrong to conclude that Juror No. 13’s statements that he received guidance in response to prayers were categorically ‘a bridge too far.’”
After days of deliberation during the former Congresswoman’s trial, the so-called “Juror 13” claimed that the “Holy Spirit” had told him before and during the trial that Brown wasn’t guilty. The juror then was removed over the fruitless protests of Brown’s attorneys during the early slog of deliberations. The appeals court found that move to be without merit.
“The record suggests that Juror No. 13 did what many jurors often do: he entered the jury room after having sat through a trial, “listen(ing) for the truth,” and expressed to his fellow jurors that he did not think the defendant was guilty. Such an expression does not alone warrant dismissal,” the majority opinion held.
Brown served Jacksonville in Congress from 1992 to 2016, with her district extending as far away as Orlando, until her last election in 2016. That map ran from Jacksonville to Tallahassee. The new map represented a final sea change in Brown’s political career. Under indictment and unable to raise money, she lost in the Primary to Rep. Al Lawson.
Now Lawson’s district is currently slated for elimination under the maps passed by the Legislature at the behest of Gov. Ron DeSantis. The Florida Supreme Court could have the final call.