JACKSONVILLE, Fla — A judge will appoint an attorney to represent former Congresswoman Corrine Brown after determining she doesn't have the money to hire one.
The decision came at the request of prosecutors when it became clear Brown has not yet hired an attorney despite a judge’s directive to do so by Wednesday's scheduled hearing. Brown is being retried on fraud, corruption and tax evasion charges after her original 2017 conviction was overturned on appeal earlier this year.
U.S. Magistrate Judge James Klindt met with Brown for nearly an hour to discuss her finances outside of the presence of media and prosecutors. After court resumed he said, "While her overall assets suggest she may have the ability to afford counsel," they are not liquid assets she can use to pay for an attorney.
"It's clear with a February trial date on the horizon that this is the best course of action," Klindt said.
At an October status hearing, Brown appeared with her appellate lawyer Bill Kent, who said he would not be representing her at her retrial. Defense attorney Curtis Falgatter also appeared at the defense table and told the judge he was in discussions with Brown to represent her, but that those conversations were contingent on her ability to pay for his services.
Falgatter was not in court Wednesday and has not yet been hired. He told First Coast News he is “optimistic” Brown will be able to hire him, but that is contingent on her pending motions for a refund of forfeiture money. Brown contends the federal government should refund all the roughly $43,000 she paid in fines and fees after her conviction. Prosecutors have said she is entitled to a refund of about $12,000 but said the remaining $31,000 has already been paid out to victims and cannot be returned.
At the October hearing, District Judge Timothy Corrigan made clear he expected Brown to have an attorney hired by Wednesday's hearing -- specifically titled “Status of Counsel Hearing.” Brown took a notably long time to hire an attorney at her first trial, cycling through three lawyers before finally hiring a fourth, James Smith.
“Let me be clear with you and Ms. Brown. I will expect that at the time of the status regarding counsel hearing it would be my expectation that Ms. Brown would appear with the lawyer she intends to try the case," Corrigan pointedly told Brown and Kent at the October hearing. "I don’t want that to be when you start to think about it. I want that to be viewed as when a concrete decision will be made.”
Brown was convicted in 2017 on 18 counts stemming from what prosecutors said was a sham charity that she used as a personal slush fund. That conviction was reversed in May by the 11th Circuit Court of Appeals, which said the trial judge improperly removed a juror who said he was being guided by “The Holy Ghost” during deliberations.
Brown was sentenced to five years in prison. She served a little more than two before being released in April 2020 due to her age, the COVID-19 pandemic and unnamed health concerns.