Former Rep. Corrine Brown and the attorneys in her federal fraud trial met with the judge on Monday to discuss motions to unseal transcripts.
The hearing was called after Action News Jax filed a motion to have the transcript of a closed session that led to the dismissal of a juror unsealed.
Letter, transcript of proceeding that led to dismissal of juror unsealed
The letter from the juror reads:
With all due respect, I'm a little concerned about a statement made by Juror #13 when we began deliberation. He said "A Higher Being told me Corrine Brown was Not Guilty on all charges". He later went on to say he "trusted the Holy Ghost". We all asked that he base his verdict on the evidence provided, the testimony of witnesses and the laws of the United States court. Other members of the Jury share my concern. Thank You."
An emergency hearing was scheduled overnight after the concerned juror called a courtroom deputy’s cellphone.
The judge decided to remove the juror from the panel after the complaints.
Deliberations restarted from scratch after an alternate juror was brought in to take his place.
The new jury panel found Brown guilty on 18 of 22 counts in the federal fraud trial.
Jurors contact attorney, court deputy after guilty verdict
The judge said on Monday that two jurors contacted Brown's attorney James Smith and a court deputy.
The judge said during the weekend, a juror made contact with Smith. Smith did not get into details about what may have been on the juror’s mind.
Law states that no attorney should interact with a juror after the trial, but an attorney can ask for permission to interview a juror, Judge Corrigan said.
Smith said the juror said in an email: “I have something that might help your appeal.”
He said he and Brown noticed that the juror “was crying and appeared to be in some distress” after Juror 13 was dismissed during deliberations.
Smith said he wants to reach out to her and talk about what’s going on and is willing to have a court stenographer present.
He said he will seek permission to contact the juror through a motion.
Prosecutor Tysen Duva said he doesn't think the court should do anything at this point.
"We don’t know the nature of why this individual contacted Mr. Smith," he said.
If this happens, U.S. Attorney’s Office would request the meeting to occur at the courthouse with a court stenographer.
“If this juror is a witness to what was discussed with previous jurors, and could shine a light on that… I believe that at least, at a minimum, I should be able to have an interview with her to find out," Smith said.
Judge Corrigan said he was disinclined to think that legal grounds to justify an interview between Smith and the juror are present but said Smith could submit a motion.
He directed that counsel should not contact any jurors until he rules on a motion.
A second juror contacted a court deputy on her cellphone after the verdict.
The text message read: “I just heard on the news about juror voting not guilty on all charges because of Holy Spirit telling him so. I don’t know if it matters, but that is not true in the partial vote we had taken prior to removal.”
The judge said the jurors "really should not be contacting the court about the deliberations.”
He said they should not be worrying about what they’re reading in the media and that he hopes this will be the last message the court receives from a juror in this case.
Judge Corrigan said he recommended to them before they left that they not talk to the media. He encouraged them to speak with one collective voice, but said it was a recommendation and not an order.
The judge said the juror who was dismissed admitted to making the very statements that were deemed to be problematic.
“I’m not sure why just because this juror now sent a text, that that would call (that) into question," Judge Corrigan said.
He said the basis of the court decision to dismiss the juror was because of what the juror told him.
Smith argued the juror was basing his decision on what the saw in the courtroom, which the juror believes is guided by God.
Excerpt from transcript, read aloud by judge during hearing:
“Did you ever say to your fellow jurors… a higher being told me that Corrine Brown was not guilty on all charges?”
Juror 13: “For the first charge, yes.”
“Did you say the words, 'A higher being told me that Corrine Brown was not guilty on all charges?'”
Juror 13: “No, I said the Holy Spirit told me that. … I mentioned it in the very beginning when we were on the first charge.”
The judge said he will consider Smith’s written motions.
Court to release transcript of sealed proceeding, email about dismissed juror
The court said it would release the transcript Monday of the sealed proceeding and the email from the juror to Smith.
Juror 8 also wrote a letter addressing the issue, which will be attached to end of transcript.
The judge asked that future media inquiries come through counsel.
“I kind of do have other things I need to be doing," he said.
Smith requested clarification on Brown’s ability to communicate with media following the verdict.
The judge said there is no legal restriction on Brown talking to the media.
"Now, whether it’s a wise thing to do, that’s between you and your lawyer," he said. "Things that you might say in public could be quoted back in court, or used in further proceedings.”
Brown addressed the media outside the courthouse after the hearing.
Full coverage of the trial:
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