U.S. District Judge Timothy Corrigan is known for being a reflective jurist. His 2016 essay for Duke University law school titled, “Who appointed me God?” demonstrated his ambivalence about issuing final sentences in criminal cases.
His comments at Monday’s sentencing in the Corrine Brown trial evoked a similar theme. “No matter how long we judges have done it, we can never forget what an awesome responsibility it is to decide whether and for how long to deprive someone of their liberty,” he told the court.Corrigan went on to sentence the longtime Democratic Congresswoman to 5 years in prison, but not before explaining his reasoning in some detail.
Corrigan began by establishing the circumstances of the charges against Brown and her codefendants, former Chief of Staff Ronnie Simmons, and his former girlfriend Carla Wiley.
Calling it a “crime born of entitlement and greed,” Corrigan noted that Brown and Simmons “traded on her role in Congress to solicit contributions” from donors to a sham charity, which was effectively a slush fund for all three.
“The public had a right to expect that Ms. Brown as an elected member of Congress [and her codefendants] … would not abuse their positions of public trust and responsibility … and would not steal money donated for the benefit of children and spend it on themselves.”
Corrigan noted that Brown’s stalwart supporters – many of whom testified at sentencing, and hundreds of others who wrote letters – refuse to believe she did wrong.
“Both at trial and in her sentencing statement to the Court, Ms. Brown admits only to running a disorganized office and of trusting the wrong people. This view is echoed by many of Ms. Brown’s supporters, both those who wrote me and those who appeared at her sentencing hearing, who simply cannot accept that the person they regarded as their champion did anything wrong. However, the jury heard this same explanation and rejected it.”
He added, ““It is the Court’s responsibility to give voice to the jury's verdict."
Corrigan gave a nod to Brown’s long history of public service, and the good she has done for people in the community over the years. He also addressed the elephant in the room: Race
“The issue of race is not ordinarily relevant to the Court’s sentencing decision; the Court addresses it here because Ms. Brown has raised it. … It was also suggested by at least one of Ms. Brown’s character witnesses, and by Ms. Brown herself in some of her out-of-court statements, that Ms. Brown’s race played a role in the prosecution of this case. The Court does not deny, as Mr. Smith argued, that distrust of law enforcement and the court system by some African-Americans is rooted in history. Unfortunately, some of that distrust persists even to this day. We all need to continue to work to earn the trust of all in our community. But today this Court only has before it this case. And, after 21 years on the bench, I say with assurance that, faced with the same evidence of fraud and tax crimes that exists here, the FBI, the IRS, and the United States Attorney would have investigated and prosecuted regardless of the individual’s race.”
While Corrigan expressed sympathy to Brown and wished her and her family well, he pulled no punches. He called some comments Brown made in the public – including suggesting the FBI could have prevented the Pulse nightclub shooting had it not been focused on investigating her “reprehensible” and “beyond the pale.”
And he seemed especially galled by the flagrant nature of one particular offense. Citing the myriad fake charitable deductions she claimed on her annual tax returns, the judge observed that she even claimed to have donated to One Door for Education – the fake charity she was plundering.
“Brazen,” Corrigan noted, “barely describes it”
Brown was ordered to report to the Bureau of Prisons no sooner than Jan. 8, which means she will be able to spend the holidays at home. Her attorney, James Smith, told the judge he plans to file a motion for bond pending appeal. The judge set a deadline for that filing on next Monday, and a deadline for a response from prosecutors on Dec. 18.