Slated to report to prison Jan. 29, former Congresswoman Corrine Brown is asking a federal appeals court to allow her to remain free while she continues to fight her conviction on charges related to a charity scam.
Brown's attorney, William Mallory Kent, filed a 37-page document Friday at the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals that seeks to keep her out of prison while an appeal is pending. The request is based on what will be a key issue in the appeal: whether U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan improperly removed a juror who said during deliberations that the “Holy Spirit” told him Brown was not guilty.
Kent wrote that the issue could lead to the reversal of Brown's conviction and, as a result, she should stay out of prison during the appeal.
“Neither the government (prosecutors) nor the district court (judge) cited a single case which has found that a juror's personal prayer life before or during deliberations could be the basis of a finding of good cause to dismiss a juror,” Kent wrote. “The district court itself acknowledged that it was certainly permissible for the juror to pray to seek guidance or inspiration to try to come to a proper decision —- and that is exactly what this juror had done. The juror did nothing improper and the juror's internal mental belief that the Holy Spirit had offered him guidance in understanding the evidence and truthfulness of the witnesses —- witnesses, all of whom, by the way, had taken an oath `so help me God' to tell the truth —- was not in any way a disqualifying mental process much less a disqualifying external influence.”
But Corrigan, who sentenced Brown to five years in prison, refused last month to allow her to remain free during the appeal and said she is required to report to prison by noon Jan. 29. Corrigan also rejected arguments that he improperly dismissed the juror.
“In essence, the court (judge) dismissed a juror who it found was unable to follow the law,” Corrigan wrote Dec. 20. “The court applied the governing legal standard to the facts, finding beyond a reasonable doubt that there was no substantial possibility that the juror was able to base his decision only on the evidence and the law as the court had instructed.”
Brown, a former 12-term Democratic congresswoman, was convicted in May on 18 felony counts related to her role in using contributions to the One Door for Education charity for personal expenses and events.
In sentencing Brown on Dec. 4, Corrigan issued a 25-page order that said the One Door for Education charity, which was originally established to help children, was “operated as a criminal enterprise” by Brown, her longtime chief of staff, Ronnie Simmons, and the charity's founder, Carla Wiley. Corrigan detailed how the charity raised hundreds of thousands of dollars, which forensic accountants said was siphoned off in cash withdrawals and used for such things as sky box seats at an NFL game and a luxury box at a Beyonce concert.
Corrigan removed the juror who made the “Holy Spirit” statement after another juror raised a concern to the judge. An alternate juror was substituted, and Brown was later found guilty.
Brown, 71, long an influential figure in Jacksonville, represented a congressional district that stretched from Jacksonville to Orlando. She lost a re-election bid in 2016 after the district's boundaries had been substantially redrawn and as she faced the criminal charges.