HARRISBURG — Lawyers for State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown are asking her trial judge to throw out her conviction on bribery and other counts, citing the judge’s own words at her sentencing that the investigation that snared her and other Philadelphia Democrats was “troubling” and laden with “racial overtones.”
In a 45-page motion filed Monday in Dauphin County Court, the legislator’s lawyers ripped into the undercover sting operation that led to charges against Brown, who they noted had no prior record and who they contend was entrapped. They also took aim at the undercover operative who became the key witness in the sting, noting that two law-enforcement agencies had previously decided not to pursue the case before then-Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams resurrected it, charging Brown and five others.
“Vanessa Lowery Brown was no pickpocket. She was an innocent member of the House Democratic Black Caucus,” the motion contends.
Brown, 52, has refused to step down from her West Philadelphia seat, even after being sentenced to 23 months' probation. Her lawyers had signaled they would attempt to challenge the verdict, particularly after comments by Judge Scott Evans at the Nov. 30 sentencing hearing.
She was convicted of taking $4,000 in bribes from the sting’s undercover operative, Tyron Ali. She was the only one of the six defendants in the now-infamous case to fight the charges at trial.
But in sparing her from prison, the judge noted the case’s racial and political overtones and what he described as conflicting testimony between Ali, who said he was never directed to target Democratic or black lawmakers, and an FBI agent who said Ali confided he was waved off GOP legislators.
“There were so many aspects of this investigation that are troubling, to say the least,” he said then.
The motion from her lawyers at the Scranton-based firm of Myers, Brier & Kelly attacks the prosecution of Brown from several angles. It accuses Ali of lying, argues that black members of the jury pool were unfairly struck from the panel, that prosecutors failed to prove their case, and that the verdict lacked sufficient evidence.
Her lawyers had raised similar arguments in pretrial motions with Evans, but the judge rejected them.
Dauphin County District Attorney Fran Chardo, in a statement Monday, noted Evans' prior rulings on those questions and said his office would oppose the motion to throw out the jury’s verdict.
“The jury found beyond a reasonable doubt that she was guilty,” Chardo said.
Late last week, Chardo filed court papers seeking to force Brown to step down from her $88,600 job as a legislator. Under the state Constitution, anyone who has been convicted of bribery, perjury or other “infamous crime” is not eligible to serve in the state legislature. Typically, lawmakers who have been found guilty of such crimes resign on the day they are sentenced.
Brown, who was reelected to another two-year term last month, has not been paid for the month of December. Though she did not resign after being sentenced, she has signaled that she does not intend to show up for swearing-in day, now scheduled for January 1 in the Capitol.