Jacksonville, FL - A juror has been dismissed from deliberations in the federal fraud trial of now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown.
The original 12 person panel deliberated about twelve hours over two days and had been set to resume at 9AM Wednesday. WOKV was inside of the courtroom at 8:14AM when all three prosecutors, the defense attorney, and Brown took their seats, and District Judge Timothy Corrigan came in. Corrigan had notified the attorneys overnight that he would convene a hearing after an issue raised by a juror, although there was no public notice the hearing would take place.
According to Corrigan, his Courtroom Deputy got a call from one of the jurors in this case Tuesday night. This juror said she was speaking only on her behalf, although she felt other jurors had a similar concern. She said one of the jurors had been talking about “higher beings” and making comments about that while also mentioning Brown.
The Courtroom Deputy gives jurors her phone number as normal protocol so that they can notify her if they’re running late for traffic or for any similar matter, according to Corrigan. The Deputy stopped the juror from saying anything further, telling her that she couldn’t talk about the case, but adding that she would tell the Judge.
Corrigan notified the attorneys and spent the evening studying case law. Wednesday morning, he asked the attorneys for their view on what should happen, and both Assistant US Attorney A. Tysen Duva and Defense Attorney James Smith III agreed that the juror who made the phone call needed to be further questioned to determine the scope of the issue and whether it’s something the court needs to intervene in.
Corrigan agreed to question the juror, although he says he did so “reluctantly”, because of the need to protect the secrecy of what is discussed inside of the deliberation room. It’s the same reason he decided to conduct that questioning in a closed session, adding also that there was the potential for these comments to have ties to the jurors’ religious beliefs.
While there was some case law for times when there were concerns about a juror that led the Judge to question him or her, Corrigan noted that those cases generally involved some kind of problem raised in the deliberation room before the individual questioning, wherein this jury has shown no signs of problems in their work so far. In one case Corrigan cited, the Judge first re-instructed the jury before moving to individual questioning- but Duva pointed out that the jury has been frequently instructed so far, and it’s tough to determine what further instruction would be effective.
Duva added that it was important to act now or the situation “could get a lot worse”. He raised the possibility of questioning the foreperson or potentially polling the jury as well. Smith agreed in the desire to have the scope of the questioning be as limited as possible, but that questioning is needed.
That questioning lasted a little over an hour in a closed session of court. The juror who the question was raised about has since been identified as Juror 13, and he has been dismissed.
When Corrigan asked the attorneys whether they had any objection to what took place and the plan moving forward, he added that Smith’s objections were preserved for the record. That indicates that Smith had raised at least one objection during the closed session, although the details of that have not been publicly released. Corrigan says he will determine at a future date whether to unseal the transcript of the closed session.
The first alternate juror, who is Juror 5, has now been seated with the full panel. The gender composition of the jury remains at seven men and five women, but other components have changed. The new juror is a Hispanic male and he replaces a white male, so there are are now three white females, four white males, two black females, one black male, and two Hispanic males seated on the panel. The juror who was dismissed lives in Middleburg, whereas the new one is from Jacksonville- so now ten of the 12 jurors live in Jacksonville, while one is in Bunnell and one is from a city that couldn’t be determined in the selection process.
Corrigan instructed the jury to start deliberations from scratch, in order to ensure all parties involved get a fair and thorough deliberation. He asked each juror individually if they would be able to set aside any prior votes and discussions in order to truly start from scratch, and they each responded that they could.
The jury moved in to the deliberation room at 10:31AM to officially start this second round.
It didn’t take long in to these deliberations for the jury to have a question for the Judge- which is the first time there has been a question from the jury room since deliberations started. The question was whether Brown was responsible for everything on her filed tax returns, even if she did not provide the information to the CPA or sign the tax form. The Judge issued a written response to them, saying only that they were to follow the jury instructions that were given to them before deliberations started.
Later in the day, the jury asked a second question- whether the government had to prove beyond a reasonable doubt all four provisions listed in the jury instructions dealing specifically with the mail fraud charges. The instructions for these charges say the government must show that Brown knowingly participated in a scheme to defraud, intended to defraud, used false representations about material facts, and caused a private or commercial interstate carrier to be used in this scheme. Corrigan interpreted the question to be asking whether the government has to prove all of those beyond a reasonable doubt, or only some. The Judge and both attorneys agreed the answer should be yes- and that was written and sent in to the deliberation room.
Brown is facing a total of 22 charges, which includes three years of filing false personal income tax returns and a charge of corrupt endeavor to obstruct the administration of the internal revenue laws. The majority of the charges are mail and wire fraud counts which related to an alleged scheme connected to a “bogus” charity called One Door For Education. Brown’s Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons and One Door President Carla Wiley have pleaded guilty for their parts in the fraud, which involved soliciting more than $800,000 in donations to the group- which they claimed was a non-profit- and using the money for their own personal expenses or to pay for events instead.
Brown says she believed One Door was a legitimate charity when she was soliciting the money. She further says she didn’t closely monitor her finances or office matters, instead trusting Simmons to handle all of that- a trust she says he betrayed.
There are a total of four alternates who sat through the trial proceedings, including the one that has now been moved to the full panel. Since deliberations began Monday afternoon, they have been kept in a separate room in the courthouse, but have not yet been dismissed and have been instructed not to discuss the case.
WOKV is inside of the courtroom as deliberations continue. Get frequent updates by following our reporter Stephanie Brown on Twitter.