Jacksonville, FL - The opening statements in the federal fraud trial of now-former Congresswoman Corrine Brown have been pushed back, after jury selection fails to wrap up in two long days.
The court had hoped to have the 12 person jury and two alternates selected by the end of the day Tuesday. All of the questioning is done, but the attorneys have not yet had the chance to exercise all of their challenges to prospective panelists- with several dozen people still being held. Around 5:45 PM, Magistrate Judge James R. Klindt told the courtroom “some complications for jurors” that he wasn’t previously aware of prevented him from holding them any later in to the evening. Because of that, he decided to end for the night, and resume Wednesday to finalize the jury.
Opening statements, which had been scheduled for 9:30AM, will now take place at 1PM.
The first day of jury questioning focused specifically on this case, with Klindt asking prospective jurors whether they were previously aware of the charges, if they have any feelings toward former and- ultimately- if the information and pre-conceived notions could be set aside in order to consider only the evidence presented at trial. Prospective jurors were also able to raise issues of “extreme hardship”. In all, that led to 21 people being excused from the pool, while 44 rolled over to today.
Klindt wanted to have around 50 prospective jurors before moving to the second phase of questioning, so more were summoned to report for jury duty Tuesday morning. The day started with those new jurors facing the same hardship and case knowledge questions as those who first reported Monday. Of the 30 questioned as a group, 17 said they have some knowledge of the case and six said they have strong feelings toward Brown one way or the other.
While 19 were flagged for further questioning, the court only needed to vet a few in order to reach a threshold where they were comfortable moving forward- 53 total prospective jurors, including the ones who rolled over from yesterday.
The second round of questioning included looking at areas which are more broad and standard for jury selection- employment, prior experience in the legal or criminal systems, and more. Ultimately, 20 people were singled out for individual questioning following group responses. Many of them indicated they knew someone or had themselves been involved in either an arrest or some kind of legal filing. The majority of those who were questioned told he judge those legal proceedings would influence their ability to listen to evidence and render a fair and impartial verdict.
Unlike Monday, when prospective jurors were being challenged “for cause” as they were being individually questioned, Klindt allowed for a few strikes and then determined the rest should be done at the conclusion of the questioning. Those cause challenges will be the first thing tackled Wednesday.
After that, prospective jurors will be “sat” in the order of their randomly selected number, and the first 12 designated as the possible panel. From there, both prosecutors and the defense have a specific number of “peremptory” strikes- or strikes without cause- which they can exercise. As prospective jurors are removed from the box for those strikes, the next in line by number will fill in.
Once the 12 person jury is chosen, a similar process takes place for the two alternates. Once that is done, the jury is set.
It’s hoped that the jury will be seated by 11AM, at which point US District Judge Timothy Corrigan- who will preside over the trial itself- will come in an instruct the jury. There will then be a break, and opening statements will formally kick off the trial Wednesday at 1PM.
This jury will not be sequestered for this trial, which is currently scheduled for three weeks. Klindt has given the pool specific and repeated instruction that they’re not allowed to consume any news or social media about the trial, that they’re not allowed to communicate with anyone about the case, and that if someone speaks about the case in their presence they’re supposed to leave.
Brown and two others are accused of soliciting more than $800,000 in donations to “One Door For Education”- a group she represented as a charity- but using the money for personal expenses instead, including travel, luxury events, and more. Her two alleged co-conspirators- former Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons and the head of One Door Carla Wiley- both previously pleaded guilty. Brown has been indicted on 22 charges.
WOKV is in the federal courthouse as these proceedings move forward. Check back frequently to WOKV.com for updates, and follow our reporter Stephanie Brown on Twitter for updates during court recesses.