Jet Blue flight lands at JIA after experiencing hydraulic issues

A Jet Blue flight from Reagan Airport in Washington, D.C., that was headed to Jacksonville International Airport reported a problem Wednesday.

The plane, which had experienced issues with its hydraulic system, landed safely with 51 people on board.

Neither the airport or airline has released any other information.

Was Brown ‘lying, cheating, stealing,’ or betrayed by her chief of staff?

The prosecutor and defense attorney used many of the same words to describe former U.S. Rep. Corrine Brown during opening statements Wednesday afternoon in her federal corruption trial, but painted very different pictures of her character.

Assistant U.S. Attorney Tysen Duva told the newly empaneled jury that while the Florida Democrat who served 12 terms in Congress was a trailblazer, politically savvy and lived up to her campaign slogan, “Corrine Delivers,” she abused her position of trust.

“She had the privilege and opportunity to serve in American democracy at the highest level for Northeast Florida and Orlando. We wish that was the end of the story, but it’s not,” Duva said. “The other side (to the story) is corruption, greed and a significant entitlement attitude. It’s a story of lying, stealing and cheating.”

Duva said Brown used her connections and influence to solicit money for One Door for Education and was fully aware that her chief of staff was withdrawing money from that “bogus charity” and putting it in her bank account.

“One Door was a big nothing. One door did little or nothing for students,” Duva said. “She used her personal relationships and lied by commission and omission.”

Duva said Brown also lied about charitable deductions on six years of tax returns.

“She was paid $179,000 a year by taxpayers, but that wasn’t enough,” Duva said. “She lied every year (on her taxes) to get a bigger return.”

MORE ONLINE: Who is on the jury?
IMAGES: Photos outside, sketches inside

When it was his turn, Brown’s defense attorney, James Smith, told the jury that the government case will be based on the testimony of two witnesses: Carla Wiley, the president of One Door and her boyfriend, Ronnie Simmons, Brown’s chief of staff, who prosecutors claim handled all the money.

Both Wiley and Simmons have pleaded guilty to charges connected to the case and agreed to testify against Brown before being sentenced. Smith said that some of the charges against them were dropped or reduced to compel their testimony, so their testimony should be treated “with great caution.”

“You have two questions to answer, and these two questions will decide how you resolve this case: 1). Who is Ronnie Simmons, and 2) Can you trust him?” Smith said.

Smith said Brown worked tirelessly for her constituents, relied on Simmons, and he betrayed her.

“By 2012, Corrine Brown was well into her mid-60s with no husband and no companion. She only had Ronnie Simmons. She delegated personal and professional affairs to him,” Smith said. “He fooled her and prosecutors. Don’t let him fool you, too.”

Smith said Corrine Brown will take the stand, “because no one can tell her story better than she can.”

Jury seated on trial’s third day

The panel of seven men and five women sworn in Wednesday morning were whittled down from a pool of 85 people. News4Jax observed there are three black jurors, eight white jurors and one Hispanic juror. Specific information about the jurors is not released by the court.

There are four alternates: two men and two women. The judge said the jurors who are alternates will not be told they are alternates. They will mix them all in with the seating, and they will all listen to the trial as if they are all seated jurors.

The jurors were chosen from 54 people who did not have hardships, strong opinions on the case or previous contact with Brown or anyone else involved in the trial. After jurors were stricken for cause, the 36 jurors that remained moved into preemptory strikes.

Lawyers could use peremptory challenges — up to six for the U.S. attorney and 10 for the defense — to reject jurors that they don’t think will be favorable to their side. After 12 jurors and four alternates were deemed acceptable by both sides, the jury selection process ended.

The jury will not be sequestered during the trial, but the jurors must not see any coverage of the trial until after a verdict is reached.

Brown’s indictment on conspiracy, fraud and tax evasion charges claims she and others raised $800,000 for the charity One Door for Education. The indictment said the organization only awarded two scholarships for $1,200, and the money was instead used for Brown’s personal expenses.

If she is found guilty on all of the charges against her, Brown could face up to 357 years in prison.

Former federal prosecutor Curtis Fallgatter told News4Jax he believes that if Brown is convicted, she’ll likely be sentenced to five or six years in prison, and would likely only serve 85 percent of that time.

Arriving for court Wednesday, Brown was upbeat and shared a moment of prayer with some pastors and supporters outside the U.S. District Courthouse downtown. Because of a gag order for everyone involved in the trial, she couldn’t say much, letting others speak for her.

“I just think that we need to rally together and take this all the way to the end,” said Jacksonville City Councilman Reggie Brown, who is one of the 35 people on Brown’s witness list.

House backs ‘assignment of benefits’ changes

With the issue appearing stuck in the Senate, the House on Wednesday overwhelmingly approved a bill dealing with a controversial insurance issue known as “assignment of benefits.”

The House voted 91-26 to approve the insurer-backed bill (HB 1421), sponsored by Rep. James Grant, R-Tampa.

A significantly different bill (SB 1218) was approved April 3 by a Senate committee but otherwise has not moved forward.

The annual legislative session is scheduled to end May 5.

The assignment-of-benefits issue involves homeowners who need property repairs signing over benefits to contractors, who then pursue payments from insurance companies. Insurers argue that abuses of the process, particularly related to water-damage claims, are driving up homeowners’ insurance premiums. But contractors and plaintiffs’ attorneys contend the process helps force insurers to properly pay claims.

The proposal would make a series of changes that, in part, would seek to curb litigation about claims.

Rep. Richard Stark, a Weston Democrat who supported the House bill, said people have improperly taken advantage of assignments of benefits for years and, without legislative action, rates could go up and fewer insurers might remain in the market.

But Rep. Joe Geller, D-Aventura, said changes in the bill could result in more litigation.

“It’s going to be tied up for the next two years,” Geller said. “That’s not going to keep up with the mission, which is to keep rates low.”

Boat registration discounts head to Scott

The Senate on Wednesday gave final approval to a bill that would expand registration-fee discounts for boat owners who have locator beacons.

The issue stems from the July 2015 disappearance of Austin Stephanos and Perry Cohen, two 14-year-olds from Tequesta who went missing after steering a 19-foot boat out of the Jupiter Inlet into the Atlantic Ocean.

Lawmakers last year approved discounts for recreational boaters who have or buy “emergency position indicating radio beacon,” or EPIRB, devices.

The Senate voted 34-0 to approve the bill (HB 711) to expand the discounts and to make them permanent.

The House last week also passed the measure unanimously, meaning it is now ready to go to Gov. Rick Scott.

Under the bill, the discounted fee for boats between 12 and 16 feet would drop from $13.77 to $11; for boats between 16 and 26 feet, the fee would go from $24.83 to $20.40; and for boats between 26 feet and 40 feet, the fee would fall from $68.56 to $57.50.