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PROSECUTING A Pillar

A 10,000 foot view of the Corrine Brown trial

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Ten-foot high windows afford expansive views of downtown Jacksonville in the tenth-floor federal courtroom where the former congresswoman will learn her fate. From this vantage none would call the cityscape majestic; the hulking JEA building figures prominently in the frame, a great rectangular thing of institutional brick flanked by shorter structures, some regal, most as ugly and utilitarian as the power company headquarters.

But Corrine Brown and her court are not permitted even the small pleasure of this unimpressive view; grey shades block out all but glimpses of the downtown skyline between the slats.

For days, the audience of media, a smattering of courthouse staffers and Brown’s supporters—mostly female, all black—have endured government pews, artificially chilled, dry air, and lights flicked on and off, as the feds make their case. Witness after witness, exhibit after exhibit, details read into the record from emails, checks and recollections. Save for the odd amusing or surprising factoid—a drink called the Queen Corrine served at a soirée (strawberry Bellini with a sugar rim, no word whether it was made with bourbon or brandy), an eyepatch on a prominent, well-coiffed citizen called to the stand—the chum has been bland, dry, pedestrian. “Do you have exhibit 35F, ma’am?” “No objections.” “The United States calls—“ “Nothing further, your honor.” “All rise for the jury.” Click. Submit. Excuse. Click. Testify. Excuse.

In the background, fingers on keyboards eagerly record word after word, hoping the next is better than the last, that the following phrase will burn brighter on the screen than all those before it, a palpable collective ache for something spicy and salacious for the evening broadcast or tomorrow’s copy. No luck yet. Witness after witness, detail after detail, all add up to the same: money solicited, communications betwixt and between donors, the congresswoman, her staff, and a persistent, glaring absence of any direct proof that her hands are unclean. Such a smoking gun is to come, presumably; the feds are saving their best for last: the Judas and his Magdalene, both who’ve copped pleas in exchange for testimony and leniency. Until then, they’re meticulously erecting a mountain under the small, bent woman in uncharacteristically plain dress, her staid wardrobe the only outward sign that she has been affected by her fall from grace, a cascading tumble from Capitol Hill to the defense table. A weaker woman couldn’t bear it.

Though her freedom hangs in the balance, the lady appears as vaguely intrigued by the case unfolding against her as the courthouse staffers who have been numbed to the rhythm of creating inmates across scores of proceedings, many presumably involving circumstances far worse than this.

Even the feds seem to have a case of the doldrums as Friday afternoon’s witnesses are sworn in, testify and are excused. This is no Perry Mason episode, no A Time to Kill. This is a bean-counter prosecution, as riveting as watching a seamstress hem a pair of khakis.

As the minutes bleed mercifully away to five o’clock, even the judge seems to drift off, then get antsy, checking the clock, the computer, his fingernails. By this stage in the proceedings, the jury has heard enough same, same, same. Resentment is creeping into their box, evidenced in a stifled yawn, a scarcely suppressed eyeroll, a flat, unfeeling stare. The prosecution doesn’t know it, but it’s losing them, burying them in facts and figures and mundane details read from emails and checks and recollections over minutes and hours and days, witness after witness going through the facts as painstakingly presented.

Then the defense rises, fresh and calm, to puncture holes in the theory that Corrine Brown is the Wizard of Oz and assert instead that all along the Wiz was, in fact, a fiction masterminded by the man behind the curtain: Ronnie Simmons, along with his co-conspirator and then-paramour, Carla Wiley.

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Trial will resume on Monday at 9:15 a.m. with the testimony of Carla Wiley, followed by Von Alexander.

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