While a court order indicated 39 prospective jurors had been summoned for the fraud trial, the instructions laid out Monday morning by Magistrate Judge James R. Klindt put the pool at 65 people. By the time the day was done, 21 of those prospective jurors had been excused.
The number will be whittled down to twelve jurors and two alternates, and the court aims to have that done by the end of the day Tuesday.
Brown and two others are accused of collecting more than $800,000 in donations for a group they claimed was a non-profit - One Door For Education - and using the money for personal expenses instead, including travel, car repairs, and events hosted by or held in honor of Brown, who was in Congress at the time.
Brown faces twenty-two charges including conspiracy to commit mail and wire fraud, mail fraud, wire fraud, filing false tax returns, and more. If convicted, she faces more than 350 years in prison. A jury must issue a unanimous verdict to convict.
After the list of prospective jurors was passed out to the attorneys, there was a brief break so either side could sort through the information. Brown was actively engaged with her attorney James Smith III during this break, including pointing to different items on the papers that were handed out. Prospective jurors then filed in one-by-one, seated in the order of their randomly assigned number, to face the initial group questioning.
For this jury selection process, Klindt told the courtroom he had studied high profile and high publicity cases from the Middle District of Florida and the 11th Circuit to determine the best practices. Even before the standard questions, he asked jurors about any familiarity with Brown, whether they’ve supported her in the past, whether they have any bias toward or against her, whether they know the witnesses who will be called, and similar areas.
While there were only a few people who said they knew Brown or had any feelings about her, more than half of the pool- 39 people- had some level of personal knowledge about this case because of conversations, social media, or what they’ve consumed through the news. These questions were laid out in the group setting, with jurors raising their hands, for an affirmative answer.
Individual questioning then followed, where the court got a better idea of the range of knowledge about the case and, more importantly, whether that information has led the prospective jurors to form an opinion on guilt or innocence, and if that opinion could be set aside to consider only the evidence presented as trial and the instructions provided by the court. The court also probed deeper in to any “extreme hardship” that would prevent a juror from committing to this trial, with most of those relating to medical or financial issues.
The extended questioning was done individually, with Klindt specifically saying he wanted to be careful that anything a prospective juror had to say would not influence others.
In all, 45 prospective jurors in the 65 person pool were questioned through Monday, specifically about this case. 21 were excused “for cause”- nine of those were based solely on prior knowledge of the case or feelings toward Brown that couldn’t be set aside, while another six were excused for multiple factors that included pre-trial publicity. The remaining strikes “for cause” were because of hardship or familiarity with people involved in the process.
Two strikes “for cause” were denied by Klindt.
The 24 prospective jurors who were questioned and retained, along with the 20 people who didn’t face questioning Monday, will return Tuesday for the second phase of screening. That will involve the standard questioning, like personal information of the prospective jurors, whether they’ve served on a jury before and other areas.
Before that second phase, though, Klindt has decided to add another ten or so prospective jurors to the pool. They’ll be individually questioned to start the day, and any remaining after that will join the group of 44 rolled over from Monday.
In addition to strikes “for cause”, attorneys have a set number of “peremptory” strikes they can exercise when questioning is done. The attorneys for both sides have been allowed to ask questions of the prospective jurors as well, through the process so far.
WOKV is inside the federal courthouse as these proceedings move forward. Check back frequently at WOKV.com for updates.
The first day of jury selection in the federal fraud trial of former Congresswoman #CorrineBrown is now done. We have a full breakdown of what was asked, and who was excused.