Jacksonville, FL - Congresswoman Corrine Brown is moving on to her fourth set of lawyers for the federal fraud trial she’s facing.
David Haas and Mark NeJame filed a motion to withdraw just two days after they formally signed on to the case last week. The motion says there was an “atmosphere of hostility and distrust” and “irreconcilable differences” on how to manage the case. Despite that, NeJame says the root of their problem is actually friendship.
Speaking after the hearing, where the judge granted the motion to withdraw, NeJame says he’s known Brown for a decade and, while sometimes it works to represent friends, sometimes it does not.
“It’s simply a break-up,” NeJame said, adding that sometimes it’s best to “be friends”, but not “be married”.
Asked about the mild response in the face of the harsh words in the motion, NeJame says they talked it out.
“We did get in to words, but no different than you get in to words with your friends or your family,” he says.
Brown offered little comment both during the hearing and after, while standing next to NeJame. She did say it’s not easy to represent a “lawyer wannabe” like herself.
Brown arrived at Tuesday’s hearing a few minutes before Haas and NeJame- and while both attorneys greeted prosecutors with handshakes, there was little said between them and Brown as they sat on either side of her.
In the hearing, Magistrate Judge James Klindt rehashed some of the motion, and then pointed to the portion where Haas offered to explain further to the court, if requested, the “unfortunate and unusual set of circumstances” surrounding what has happened. While Klindt agreed with an argument from NeJame that their motion to withdraw was filed in a timely manner, he disagreed that further discussion wasn’t needed. NeJame told the court they didn’t want to prejudice Brown and that they were in an “awkward position”, but Klindt pushed for more.
“The court is owed an explanation at this point regarding what is happening with Ms. Brown’s representation,” Klindt said.
Ultimately, there was an hour-long discussion behind closed doors before the judge not only granted the motion to withdraw, but pushed Brown’s trial to November. The main concern from the US Attorney’s Office has been the impact the uncertainty of counsel was having on the trial proceedings. While Klindt acknowledged that they would all like more certainty at this stage, he believes this is the right way to move forward.
“This is just one of those cases where it may take more time than other cases for the representation issue to be settled,” he says.
Klindt added that Brown is not trying to stall the trial through legal maneuverings.
“Suffice it to say that I’m convinced that Ms. Brown is making a good faith effort to assemble a defense team and to hire a lawyer in this case,” he says.
Haas and NeJame are the third set of attorneys who had agreed in some fashion to represent Brown, meaning she’s now looking for her fourth set in just over six weeks. NeJame says Brown is already speaking with other lawyers and he will help her transition to a new team.
He added that Brown is not having financial issues lining up a new attorney.
Brown is facing a federal indictment for fraud, conspiracy, and other charges dealing with her alleged ties to a group known as “One Door For Education”. The federal government claims the education non-profit is actually a scam, and more than $800,000 in donations were actually used for the personal expenses of Brown, her Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons, and the former head of the organization Carla Wiley.
Wiley previously pled guilty and agreed to cooperate as the government built their case against Brown and Simmons, who both deny the allegations. Brown has previously said the charges against her are politically motivated, while Simmons has offered no comment.
The US Attorney’s Office indicated during Tuesday’s hearing that Simmons’ attorney will likely look to get even more time before trial, which they don’t anticipate opposing. They added they also expect there to be a conflict of interest issue that will need to be settled regarding Simmons’ representation.
Soon after the hearing, prosecutors filed a motion giving more insight on the conflict issue. The US Attorney’s Office says Anthony Suarez- who has signed on to represent Simmons- also represented a witness who was subpoenaed for the grand jury in this investigation. Prosecutors add that the witness will likely be called during trial, creating a conflict for Suarez.
“Mr. Suarez would not be permitted to cross examine the witness concerning certain topics that Mr. Suarez may know solely because of his attorney-client communications with the witness during the prior representation. If Mr. Suarez was inclined strategically to cross examine the witness, this limitation could potentially adversely effect Simmons,” the motion says.
This issue will be addressed, along with the status of Brown’s counsel, in a hearing that’s been set for September 7th.