Brown to plead ‘no contest’ to original charges
STORY BY LISA ZAHNER,
(Week of June 2, 2011)
Photo of Richard Brown
Suspended beachside attorney Richard Brown is facing seven felony charges to be tried down the road. According to his lawyer, however, Brown has decided to take a plea on the misdemeanor worthless check charges that first put him in jail March 23.
Criminal defense attorney Robert Meadows told Judge David Morgan last week that when Brown appears in Judge Morgan’s court in Vero Beach Friday, he will plead no contest to two charges of writing nearly $3,300 in bad checks to a former landlord for a rental home in Bermuda Club.
Brown, who formerly kept an office in the Regatta Professional Suites on A1A in Vero Beach, was not in court last week as he was still incarcerated in St. Lucie County. He was scheduled to have a bond reduction hearing Wednesday before Judge Gary Sweet.
In May, Judge Sweet denied a motion to reduce Brown’s bond from $375,000 because of concerns that he was a flight risk. Then Brown was re-arrested in jail on a first-degree grand theft charge, and his bond was upped to $475,000.
Meadows asserts that Brown can’t be convicted of everything he’s being charged with because that could constitute double jeopardy and that the state needs to “pick their poison” and decide amongst the charges to pursue. On that basis, Meadows will try to get the bond amount reduced.
“A bond isn’t made to keep you in jail,” Meadows said. “It’s made to secure your presence in court, to be enough to make sure you show up for trial.”
While in the St. Lucie County Jail, where Brown has been since May 4, Meadows said Brown has kept mostly to himself and has spent much time doing legal work on his own case. The research, Meadows said, has helped Brown cope with the frustration and lack of control associated with being incarcerated.
Meadows declined a request for an interview with Brown, saying “he talks too much.”
Brown might not be getting out of jail anytime soon, but he is scheduled to get a slight change of scenery. Judge Morgan last week signed an order to have Brown transported to the Indian River County Jail on Thursday for his Friday plea. Meadows said Brown will be sentenced at that time and that he and the State Attorney’s Office have recommended Brown get 30 days probation for the bad checks – probation that he could very well serve consecutively with jail time if he doesn’t bond out.
When Brown arrives in Indian River County, Meadows said the Indian River County Sheriff’s Office should serve Brown with two active warrants it’s holding for three charges – one warrant for criminal use of personal identity and second-degree grand theft, and one warrant for third degree grand theft.
Once those warrants are served, Meadows said he can gain access to whatever evidence the state has and the clock starts ticking on Brown receiving a speedy trial on those charges.
News reports of Brown’s arrests in March and May had prompted some new Vero Beach victims to contact law enforcement and new charges to be filed. When asked if more charges are likely to be filed soon, Assistant State Attorney Lev Evans said “not at this juncture.”
Meadows said Brown could be tried separately for each charge or the charges could be grouped together for prosecution; that decision awaits further talks with the State Attorney’s Office.
In addition to the criminal charges Brown faces locally, he also has pending issues in Tallahassee related to his law license. The Florida Supreme Court suspended Brown’s license April 7 and the Florida Bar had 60 days from that date to file formal disbarment proceedings.
“You can anticipate that very soon,” Meadows said.
Investigator reports and court records show that all but two of Brown’s felony charges relate to alleged misuse of client funds entrusted to him in his practice of law. Some of the funds were supposed to be in his trust account in escrow for real estate or business deals or lawsuits and some of the funds were insurance proceeds intended to pay for medical bills.
The charges not related to the law practice stem from Brown’s attempt to clear out $63,000 from a Northern Trust account he held jointly with estranged wife Natalie Holtom Brown, a local interior designer. The Browns are in the process of getting divorced.
All told, Brown is accused of stealing or attempting to steal by fraud nearly $250,000, according to case reports and arrest warrants.
“A lot of people are saying this is another Ira Hatch,” Meadows said. “I can assure you, this is not another Ira Hatch.”