Information blackout: Inside the courtrooms with Corrine Brown and Co.

Going into federal court is always a challenge when you’re a journalist. 

From my experience, federal courts require that cellphones be either placed in a locker (if provided) at the courthouse or in your car or some other place that’s not the courtroom.

I had to leave mine in my car, but luckily they allow us to bring in our laptops and devices that allow us to connect to an internet source.

We’re not allowed to transmit information directly from the courtroom, so you can’t technically provide live updates to viewers. So if you’re wondering what happens in a federal courtroom, waiting is the hardest part.

I go through security check without a hitch and head up to the 10th floor. The main courtroom was “D,” but the audio quality was rumored to be better in the adjacent, overflow courtroom, “A.”

I sat down in a stiff pew at the back of the room where the electrical outlets are nestled and propped up my Dell laptop.

Numerous people filled both courtrooms “A” and “D” including competitors from other news organizations.

Former Congresswoman Corrine Brown was convicted on 18 counts of federal fraud and corruption back in May.

Thursday's sentencing hearing started at 10:02 a.m., with defense attorney James Smith making statements before the lead prosecutor Tysen Duva made his presentation to the judge regarding what he believes should be the sentencing for Corrine Brown.

Brown, wearing a magenta suit with perfectly primped hair, briefly entered the overflow courtroom prior to the proceedings starting and greeted some of the people who showed up to support her. She was then ushered away to the main court.

During her hearing, the prosecutor, as expected, said numerous negative characteristics of Brown. In response to those, many people reacted with simple head shakes and vocalizations of disdain.

Judging from the support from people surrounding Corrine Brown and the statements they’ve made, you really want to believe that Corrine Brown didn’t commit these heinous crimes.

She seems dedicated to her church, her donors, her constituents, and others in the community.

And the people that came forward to testify on her behalf Thursday seem to back up that notion that she’s an inherently good, passionate person.

But the evidence was damning enough to convict. 

Based on previous testimony and documents released by the court, Brown and her co-consiprators used funds from One Door to bankrolled a Beyoncé concert, a Jaguars-Redskins game in D.C., and numerous receptions surrounding the former congresswoman.

In society, she appears to be a beacon of triumph for the black community, but on paper, as the prosecutor phrases it, she’s “corrupt.”

Going back to the sentencing hearing today, numerous people came forward to share their support and anecdotes about Corrine Brown. Congresswoman Sheila Jackson Lee didn’t hold back in describing Brown as a “loving person” dedicated to helping those less fortunate than herself.

One woman recalled her journey through high school at Raines and Ribault High Schools here in Jacksonville, where she first learned of a challenge by Brown to win a computer by reading 25 books in a school year. The woman, who couldn’t afford a computer for her family at the time, completed that challenge, saying she has held onto that computer since then to remind her of the progress she’s made in her life, thanks to Corrine Brown.

Her defense attorney, James Smith, got emotional while giving his final presentation to judge Tim Corrigan. After working with Brown for more than a year, he’s come to know her on a greater level and understand the impact she’s had on many in Jacksonville’s black community and the community as a whole.

He recalled speaking with an attorney over dinner in Orlando who was originally from Jacksonville. That attorney told Smith that to the Jacksonville community, Brown was “our Martin Luther King.”

Their “Martin Luther King” broke through a glass ceiling in Congress that has paved the way for other people of color to move upward into positions of power.

To many in the courtroom, that legacy is remarkable and warrants heavy consideration in terms of her sentencing.

Many called for community service and probation in their witness statements on Thursday.

The prosecutor is asked for 7.5 years to nine years, with a possible reduction in a sentencing no less than five years.

It’ll be interesting to see come Dec. 4 what the outcome is in this divisive federal court case.

Until then, Judge Corrigan will continue to review letters from members of the public who are in support of or against Brown. So far, 99 percent of letters received by Corrigan have been positive toward Brown.

Be sure to stick with First Coast News for continuing coverage of the trial on Dec. 4.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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