Book Reviews for Justice Denied
Jim's new book has been reviewed by:
»Ron Watson, Jr editor of Ouachita Citizen
»Leader's Edge Magazine March 2005 Issue
»Wiley Hilburn in The Shreveport Times
»Christopher Tidmore in The Louisiana Weekly
»Sam Hanna in The Concordia Sentinel
»Insurance Run-Offs Newsletter
»Ken Stickney in The News-Star
»James Gill in Times-Picayune
»John LaPlante in The Advocate
»AMAZON.com Book Review
Brown Makes Statewide Book Tour
May 12, 2005
By Ron Watson, Jr.
He could have fallen away from the public eye, his federal conviction a distant detail of Louisiana political history, but that’s not Jim Brown’s style. Just over two years after being released from prison for lying to an FBI agent in connection with an 1999 federal investigation of Edwin Edwards, the former insurance commissioner and longtime politician has hit the road on a book tour.
Brown‘s biography, "Justice Denied," recounts experiences in Louisiana politics, his 1999 trial, and his case for "vindication."
"I believe people want to hear my side of the story, that, in my opinion, a huge injustice was done," he said. "I think I did a good job in public life, and I want history to judge me better than those outrageous charges."
But the tour in support of "Justice Denied," which brought him to the Twin Cities this week, has also afforded Brown the chance to "get a sense of the rhythm and soul of Louisiana." And he doesn’t like what he sees.
"I love this part of the state," he said "I’ve spent all of my adult life in Ferriday, where I first became a state senator, and I’m not happy at all about what I see here, as far as the lack of opportunity and young people having to leave to find good-paying jobs."
Brown is also concerned about once-thriving small downtown districts that are "drying up," and laments the lack of a regional four-lane interstate.
"I talked about Hwy. 15 my entire political career, and it’s come a long way, but when you get to Monroe it’s a dead stop," he said. "We’ve got to have better infrastructure."
Brown said he penned "Justice Denied," during his six-month incarceration, partially to keep his spirits up.
"My attitude was ''I’ll gain nothing by being negative,'" he said. "A baseball season lasts longer than six months. So I wrote my book, got in great physical shape, and now I’m ready to talk about my experience."
So what kind of advice does a 65-year-old former elected official, who’s been everything from Coach Dean Smith’s first recruit at the University of North Carolina to a career politician to a person convicted under questionable circumstances have to offer?
"First of all, don’t get bogged down in the small stuff because those things have a way of working themselves out" he said. "Secondly, don’t let the system grind you down, and find a niche where you can make a difference, no matter where it is."
Ron Watson can be reached at 318.322.3161 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.
I Was Set Up by the FBI
Leader's Edge Magazine
No longer stymied by a federal gag order, former Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown speaks his mind, declares his innocence and points the finger at the FBI.
Editor's Note: Former Louisiana Insurance Commission Jim Brown recently published a book about his fight with the federal government and conviction for lying about a crime that was never committed. In an exclusive article for Leader's Edge, Brown tells his side of the story and about what it's like to be one of the good guys, until the good guys turn on you.
I gave hundreds of speeches in 12 years as Louisiana’s elected insurance commissioner. To lay groups, I often explained that insurance is to protect someone against a possible eventuality. To the more informed in the business, I referred to it as “the development of probability theory allowing the statistical likelihood of damage to be calculated.”
It all boils down to the odds of something bad happening.
There are no sure bets in insurance, but I would have laid odds on this one: though my two predecessors were embroiled in scandal, there was absolutely no way I was ever going to have a run-in with the federal government. I was the good guy, making insurance fraud cases against crooks who were then prosecuted by the Feds. I thought I was on their team. Boy, was I in for a surprise.
My world changed dramatically in September 1999. Just weeks before my re-election to a third term, I was blindsided with a 56-count indictment involving insurance fraud. I was stunned, and I felt betrayed by my government. False and outrageous charges were undermining some 30 years of honorable public service. Remember the opening lines of Franz Kafka’s The Trial? “Someone must have slandered Joseph K., for without having done anything wrong he was arrested one fine morning.” That’s exactly how I felt. Slandered and deceived. Persecuted by those who are supposed to protect.
When I was first elected as Louisiana’s top insurance regulator in 1991, I had quite a mess to clean up. The two commissioners before me served jail time for taking bribes from questionable characters in the insurance industry. Insurance companies were not being regulated. Thousands of claims owed to policyholders were unpaid. A number of insurance companies were broke and should have been shut down years earlier.
After many long hours working with a thoroughly trained young staff, I was able to build a new department from scratch. Our effort garnered positive attention from all corners.
The Journal of Commerce concluded that, “Louisiana’s new insurance commissioner is making good on his promise to clean house.” The Baton Rouge Advocate said my changes “have helped turn Louisiana from a state with a tarnished image to one that appears to be headed in the right direction.”
We completely restructured insurance regulation in Louisiana. I shut down some 45 insolvent companies and made more than 100 criminal referrals to the FBI and other law-enforcement agencies. “A big part of our success in getting convictions of insurance executives is that we have been given cases that are eminently take-able,” the U.S. attorney in New Orleans told Best’s Review magazine. “Jim Brown’s office gives us cases we can get convictions on.”
Eight years went by, and I was comfortably on my way to being re-elected for a third term when all hell broke lose. The FBI and the local U.S. Attorney’s Office had been investigating former four-term Gov. Edwin W. Edwards. This was nothing new, as Edwards had been under a microscope for most of his political life. This time, the investigation centered on gambling licenses. But in the process of taping his telephones, the Feds overheard discussions concerning Edwards’ representation of a financially impaired insurance company called Cascade. Little stock was put in the insurance angle because there were no victims. Every policyholder was paid, and the state suffered no losses. So how could there be a crime?
But the charges rained down in 1999, including 13 counts of my making false statements to an FBI agent. These charges were based on a 30-minute interview that I viewed as routine and of no consequence. But that interview clearly marked the beginning of a long nightmare.
Who Wants to Be First?
Aspects of the charges against me and the subsequent trial were, my lawyers and I discovered, unprecedented. I was the first statewide public official in this country to be indicted just a few weeks before re-election. I was the first public official in this country to be put under a gag order minutes after I was indicted, severely limiting my ability to speak out fully in my own defense. I was the first public official to be tried by an anonymous jury—one of the most secretive trials in U.S. history. The jury in my case was selected behind closed doors with the press and my family barred from the courtroom.
But here was the real backbreaker: I was prohibited from seeing the FBI agent’s handwritten notes of my interview. I became the first person in the history of the United States to ever be convicted of making false statements yet denied the right to review the handwritten notes of those false statements. It just had never happened before.
Even more bizarre, a co-defendant in my case, a lawyer from Shreveport, was also charged with making false statements by the same FBI agent. He was able to get the handwritten notes from the prosecutors, and he effectively used those notes to show that statements he made were true. So he gets the handwritten notes and is found not guilty. I don’t get the handwritten notes, and I am convicted.
However you look at it, it was a real miscarriage of justice. After my conviction, the press weighed in, nearly unanimous in their condemnation of what happened to me.
“Brown was the victim of an FBI trick, which may not meet the legal definition of entrapment but will strike any fair-minded layman as dirty pool,” the New Orleans Times-Picayune intoned. “He had, after all, done nothing wrong. The feds did notch up one success, and they should be ashamed of it. It was a dud case from day one.”
And from the New Orleans Gambit Weekly, “Years from now, they’re going to call it the Jim Brown Rule: if you’re a public official in Louisiana, do not talk to the FBI. Not under any circumstances. Not even if you’re innocent and have nothing to hide. Especially if you’re innocent and have nothing to hide. There’s little justice to be found in his conviction.”
The Fifth Circuit Court of Appeals backed the trial judge, essentially saying it would be too much of a burden on the FBI to have to keep anything handwritten. What was important, the court said, was the testimony of the agent. Who cares if his handwritten notes might contradict his testimony? It matters not that the obvious “best evidence” would be the contemporaneous handwritten notes taken at the time of the interview.
Press reaction to the appeals court decision was equally supportive. The Times-Picayune continued raising questions about the unjust decision, saying the case against me was “incompetent and unscrupulous, the prosecution’s theory of the case utterly preposterous and the trial a travesty.” Pretty strong stuff from the state’s largest paper.
Two years after my conviction, the handwritten notes were made public. Not surprisingly, they revealed distortions in the typewritten statement the FBI agent prepared days after the interview. The notes do not support the charges on which I was convicted. The notes also differed dramatically from a number of statements the agent made at my trial.
In one example, the agent testified that I lied by telling him during the interview that I had not discussed “settlement issues or what it would take to settle” the Cascade matter with various people, including Edwin Edwards. The agent’s typed statement makes repeated references to “settlement issues,” but the phrase appears nowhere in his handwritten notes. That’s because I never said that I didn’t discuss settlement issues. During the interview, I denied negotiating with these people or being part of the final settlement negotiations on the Cascade matter. And that was the truth.
In any other federal circuit in the country, I would have received the handwritten notes before my trial. And I would have been found innocent.
On Second Thought…
While I was serving a six-month prison sentence, one of the jurors read the handwritten notes and called a press conference. She made it clear that she and other jurors she’d spoken to would not have convicted me of making false statements if they had seen the FBI agent’s notes during the trial. She told the press, “I wish I could go back and change it. I never thought he would go to prison.”
The juror had one final comment: “I believe in the system far less after being on that jury.”
Bittersweet? Of course, but legally, it really made no difference. There is no legal procedure to reopen the case and reverse my conviction. What’s done is done. If you live in Louisiana, the truth doesn’t matter.
Is my heart still full of bitterness? Not really. What happened to me was an aberration. When the U.S. Justice Department unloaded on Edwin Edwards, I was caught in the crossfire. But I do miss being an insurance regulator. I had the unique opportunity to build an insurance department from scratch, and in some way, touch the lives of hundreds of thousands of Louisiana citizens. On the international scene, I played a key role in the reconstruction and renewal of Lloyd’s following major financial problems in the early 1990s.
Not a day passes when I am not asked about the injustice that took place. At the movies, in restaurants, just about anywhere my wife and I go, people stop us to express their regrets and support. I would like to put the whole experience behind me, but it’s not that easy. I will always be sustained by the belief that I was right and by knowing that, even when justice failed me, I didn’t back down.
Was the time I spent in public life worth all the tragic events that happened at the end? That’s not hard to answer. I thoroughly enjoyed my 28 years as an elected official, but I can’t change the way it ended. Garth Brooks said it pretty well: “Our lives are better left to chance. I could’ve missed the pain, but I’da had to miss the dance.”
The Case of Jim Brown:
Convicted of lying about a crime that was never committed.
Insurance Commissioner: December 1991–April 2003
Indicted: September 1999, just before election to third term
Charged: 43 counts of mail, insurance and wire fraud, conspiracy and witness tampering, and 13 counts of making false statements
Convicted: November 2000 on seven counts of lying to an FBI agent; acquitted on all other counts
Sentenced: March 2001
Served: Six months in Oakdale, Louisiana, federal prison
Released: April 11, 2003 probation ends this year
In 1996, the FBI wiretapped Louisiana Gov. Edwin Edwards’ home phone in an investigation related to extortion for riverboat gambling licenses. Edwards and others were convicted in May 2000.
The wiretap that led to Edwards’ prosecution also generated the charges against Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown, who was well regarded for bringing some integrity back to the state’s system of insurance regulation. The tap disclosed 71 conversations related to Edwards’ legal representation of David Disiere, who owned Cascade Insurance Co. Disiere had hired Edwards to help advance the rather heated liquidation negotiations with the receivership judge. Some of those discussions were with Brown.
The prosecutors charged that Edwards, Brown, Disiere and his attorney Ronald Weems, insurance duty judge “Foxy” Sanders, and Louisiana Receivership Office Director Robert Bourgeois all engaged in a complex trading of favors related to the Cascade settlement. Edwards supposedly offered Sanders a way to influence closure of a federal grand jury investigation. The government said Brown wanted Edwards to help him run for a U.S. Senate seat and regain authority over receiverships (ceded to Sanders in 1995). Disiere’s “prize” allegedly was an incentive for a court-appointed investigator not to pursue legal action or a criminal investigation of him.
In January 1999, Brown and the other defendants were indicted on 43 counts of mail, insurance and wire fraud, conspiracy and witness tampering. Brown’s indictment also covered 13 charges of making false statements to federal officials. Sanders, Disiere and Bourgeois pleaded guilty to reduced charges.
At the end, Brown was convicted of seven charges of lying to an FBI agent. The jury acquitted Brown, as well as his co-defendants, of all other charges.
“Jim was left being convicted of lying about a crime which the jury said did not occur,” says John Hill, the Gannett Capitol reporter for the Baton Rouge Business Report “Believe me, as a political journalist in Louisiana, I have had a career of going into courtrooms covering trials, and most of the time you can say they deserved to be there because they were greedy. In this instance, what did Jim Brown do? Well, he approved a settlement agreement that everybody agreed to.”
Book Speaks to Travesty of Justice
Monday, January 10, 2005
The Shreveport Times
The title of Jim Brown's recent book, Justice Denied, speaks to the travesty of justice one of Louisiana's enduring political legends received at the hands of the FBI.
The former Louisiana senator and secretary of state served six months for making false statements to the FBI -- victimized by the fiery blowback of the Edwards scandals. This was a frightening miscarriage of justice. Brown faced slow justice, an anonymous jury, a hostile judge, and had no recourse to the FBI notes that convicted him.
Brown was not, in effect, allowed to face the accusatory FBI notes that condemned him. It was justice denied. The Cambridge-educated Brown is an indifferent writer, but his inspired choice of a journal-diary story-telling technique makes the 409-page book read like a novel.
Louisiana political junkies will mainline Brown's frequent, intimate reference to Edwin Edwards, John McKeithen and the whole hayride.
Brown, 64, grew up in Louisiana politics. He would have made a different kind of governor -- Tale of Two Cities meets Tobacco Road -- and was in competition for Louisiana's top job almost from Day One in Ferriday, as state senator in a sprawling six-parish district.
A closet liberal, an unashamed Democrat, Brown endeared himself to the Louisiana press by forging the reformist "Open Meetings" law during early Senate days. Brown was easily the most effective, active secretary of state in Louisiana history. His Archives Building preserved our state's most precious historical documents.
Brown was headed in exactly the same direction as insurance commissioner until the feds unlawfully pinched him.
In a sense, I grew up with Brown. Two years older, I chose journalism while Brown was born to politics.
We first met in the long, hot summer of 1978 when I covered the Fifth District campaign (then all of North Louisiana) for The Times of Shreveport. I was immediately intrigued by Brown's education, intellect and openness (which would kill him with the FBI). Brown told me then his aim was the governorship, and I could see it happening.
Actually, the over-confident Brown was trounced by Jerry Huckaby in that race. Alan Stonecipher, Huckaby's brilliant handler, angrily complained during the campaign that my stories favored Brown. I ended up voting for Huckaby, who just two years before literally mortgaged the family farm in northwest Louisiana to topple the seemingly invincible, 30-year Otto Passman dynasty based in Monroe.
But I did admire the aggressive, articulate Brown with his fashionably shaggy brown hair, tall good looks and silk suits. Brown blew away Times editorial page editor Jim Montgomery with a master's thesis letter-to-the-editor on the death of the iconic Tennessee Williams.
Montgomery couldn't imagine Brown shaking hands with the Earl of Louisiana, Earl Long. Brown's erudite letter sought no political advantage and was typical of him.
Brown is and never was perfect; far from it. Brown married into wealth -- twice, if that can be considered bad. Ferriday never forgave him for the first split. He was and is a big-mouthed, name-dropping, country-dropping, restaurant-hopping, party-going Louisiana politician. "I'm in London, Wiley, negotiating Louisiana insurance with Lloyd's of London," he said when he called me one day at Louisiana Tech.
Brown was doing just that, to the state's great benefit. "What a job!" he said proudly of his role as insurance commissioner at the time. "This is so much more exciting than being secretary of state," he said.
When talking to Brown, I always advised him "not to fly too close to the sun" meaning Edwin Edwards, the French Sun King. Edwards was not convicted in the Cascade insurance case, but Brown had flown into EWE's solar system -- and got burned.
Everything was still possible and positive when Brown was "stunned" by his federal indictment in September of 1999 for favoring the failed insurance company, Cascade. Remarkably, Brown was re-elected as commissioner while under indictment.
But Brown's conviction for lying to the FBI in October of 2000 murdered his political career. He only served six months in Oakdale, but the feds imposed a death sentence on his considerable Louisiana political legacy. Wrongful death, but death.
Brown wants to avenge the terrible insult with what is a compelling book and his own incredible energy of innocence. But there is, of course, no real appeal for a reputation unjustly ruined. "Convicted" is a tombstone of a word. That is the personal tragedy of Justice Denied.
The Return of Jim Brown
Monday, December 27, 2004
The Louisiana Weekly
Phoenix-like, the recently imprisoned former Louisiana secretary of state and insurance commissioner has once more made himself a player in the Louisiana political world.
His weekly column on politicsla.com has become required reading for the politically interested and politically active in the Pelican State. His schedule of press appearances shows evidence of his cache with the media. He sits for a radio interview in Shreveport one day, a TV program in New Orleans the next, and a book signing in Lafayette on the third.
The reason is not just his new career as a pundit, though his opinions on the Democrats' recent losing streak are in demand. His new book, Justice Denied, has made for a thrilling day-by-day account of the now-sensational trial that denied Brown access to the evidence against him and ultimately sent him to what he describes as "a six-month vacation at Oakdale Penitentiary."
The book is not limited to the events of the trial and its aftermath. It tells of Brown's uphill re-election campaign against Republican Alan Boudreaux in the middle of an indictment and the journal-like entries with insight into Louisiana's political climate. There are also remembrances of governors as different as Jimmy Davis, Dave Treen and Edwin Edwards.
In the preface, Brown is unapologetic. He calls it his "account of the six-year struggle I faced in opposing the federal government's effort to unjustly convict me of false criminal charges."
Honeycombed with stories from his almost 40-year career in politics, Brown calls Justice Denied "neither an autobiography nor a comprehensive history of my public life."
As he explains, "It is more of a personal narrative; thoughts I recorded each day as events unfolded. I talk about how my family and I responded to the pressures of the false charges; how an incumbent public official could be re-elected after he was blindsided by a 56-count indictment just a few weeks before the election; what I went through in building the Louisiana Insurance Department virtually from scratch, and why insurance companies worldwide have been attracted to Louisiana. I also talk about the trial itself, and the devastating effect it had on my family and me. I discuss the aftermath of the trial, including the appeals process, and the massive commitment of time and money I made, trying to keep from going to jail while hoping to win my appeal."
Justice Denied grew from Brown's journal entries, which can be seen by one of the minute-by-minute telling of one of the first passages in the book. "Friday, September 24, 1999, Baton Rouge. Louisiana...The call came in around 10:30 a.m. from Brad Myers, a contract attorney for the insurance department."
"'Jim, I'm over at the federal courthouse, and I have bad news. You were just indicted. Fifty-six counts.'"
"I sat there stunned, in my office chair staring blankly at the wall. At first, the full impact didn't register. Then it started to sink in. 'Tell me what you know, Brad. What am I charged with?'"
"He quickly summarized a series of allegations that included conspiracy, insurance fraud, witness tampering, and making false statements to federal officials, all related to Cascade Insurance Company."
"'You've got to be kidding!' I protested. 'The biggest crook in America doesn't get 56 counts. What on earth are they trying to do to me?'"
"'I'm getting a copy of the charges now," Brad said. "It's massive, 47 pages. I'll try to have it over to you in the next hour.'"
"The election date for insurance commissioner was only a month away. Brad is a former federal prosecutor, so I felt he would know.
"'Have you ever heard of a statewide elected official being charged like this right before an election?' I asked."
"'Never,' said Brad. 'It just doesn't happen. I'm sorry.'
"I hung up the phone and resumed staring at the wall. I was so shaken by the bad news, I hadn't even asked who else was charged. Allan Pursnell, one of my deputy commissioners, walked in with additional news. 'I just got a call from the Associated Press. They found out about the charges and want your reaction.'"
"Allan told me that five other people had been indicted with me - former governor Edwin Edwards, former district judge Foxy Sanders, Shreveport attorney Ron Weems, receiverships director Bob Bourgeois, and David Disiere of Shreveport, an insurance executive and owner of Cascade Insurance Company."
"'I told Allan I needed some time before talking to the AP. I wanted to call my wife Gladys. And I wasn't about to give a statement until I could collect my wits, think it through, and try to make some sense of what had just happened to me. I had just been indicted!" In an interview with the Weekly, Brown said, "This book is a chance to vindicate myself. But, it is also an explanation that I have something to offer, some insights so others will not have to endure what I did."
Justice Denied is now available in bookstores. It also can be purchased by calling 225.925.8429.
Brown can be reached at email@example.com.
Brown Tells His Story in Book
Wednesday, December 1, 2004
The Concordia Sentinel
Louisiana has had a score of public officials spend time in jail, but Jim Brown is the first and only one to write a book about his experience. Actually, Brown's recently-released book, entitled "Justice Denied," is not about the six months Brown spent in federal prison at Oakdale. It concentrates on the federal case itself.
Brown obviously got a raw deal, one which he didn't deserve. It ended his political career and cost his a cool $50,000 in fines. As he put it himself, he was caught in a drive-by shooting that was directed at Edwin Edwards, but as one observer wrote Brown was standing on a dangerous corner.
Brown's book starts with the day in September of 1999 when he was indicted on 56 counts for favoring a failed insurance company called Cascade whose owner was represented by Edwards.
This was after Edwards left office and Brown was facing reelection as the state Commissioner of Insurance.
Despite the Grand Jury indictment that came only one month prior to the election, Brown was returned to office by the voters. When the insurance case finally went to trial, the jury found Brown innocent on all the charges except one. He was sent to jail for lying to an FBI agent.
Brown takes issue with that, too, pointing out that he was never allowed to see the agent's handwritten notes. The agent got it wrong, Brown says.
Thus, "Justice Denied" was given birth while Brown spent six months locked up at Oakdale.
He was guilty by association as federal authorities tapped Edwards' telephone and taped conversations between Edwards and Brown about the Cascade case.
The outcome of the settlement regarding the insurance company was favorable to the company's policyholders in Louisiana. All of them were paid.
Later Edwards and others, including his son, were sent to prison for taking money in exchange for casino licenses. Edwards was not imprisoned in the Cascade indictments.
"Justice Denied" is a detailed account drawn from Brown's diary and notes which he made while it was going on. It provides an inside view of the insurance industry and its problems in Louisiana as well as how the justice system works in the country.
Brown took over an insurance department that was in disarray and put it on its feet before the Cascade case ever came about. He is proud of that accomplishment.
His book also contains many stories about his experiences in Louisiana politics and the relationship which he had with Edwards, going back to his first election to the Senate when he was practicing law in Ferriday.
Brown took office when Edwards first became governor. He ran against Edwards but only after Edwards indicated he wasn't running. Looking back on the days when Brown lived in Ferriday, he was a man who dreamed of going to the top in politics. His goal was the governor's office.
And, according to an account in the book, Brown came close to becoming a United States senator when in 1996 it appeared John Breaux would be appointed ambassador to France.
Breaux agreed to recommending Brown for the appointment to the Senate if then-Gov. Mike Foster would assure President Clinton that he would appoint Brown, a Democrat, to replace Breaux.
The deal was in place until Clinton backed off of the Breaux appointment to France because he was coming under fire and needed all of his friends in the Senate.
Thus, Monica Lewinsky prevented Breaux for becoming ambassador to France and Jim Brown from going to the Senate. Wonder what the feds would have done then?
Since his release, Brown has been busy writing "Justice Denied." Some 10,000 copies are now available in bookstores.
The book probably won't make the New York Times Best Seller list. But it gives Brown the opportunity to defend himself as well as providing a warning for others to heed.
Insurance Run-Offs Newsletter
Wednesday, December 1, 2004
Never one to criticize law enforcement, the case of former Louisiana Commissioner of Insurance Jim Brown leaves many unanswered questions, but the publication of new book might well shed some new light on this tale. The cheap and easy shot for a journalist (accurate I can hear one or two of my colleagues saying) is to depict "Insurance and Louisiana" as a troubled zone. Three consecutive State Insurance Commissioners found themselves in prison; Sherman Bernard, Doug Green (the man who fought the election ticket on the slogan, as I recall, "Doug Green, Mr. Clean") and most recently Jim Brown.
It is generally accepted that the regulation of insurance in Louisiana (and several other States) left much to be desired in the 1980s and there was much talk of how easy it was to get a license to underwrite insurance.
Jim Brown however, who swept to power after the demise of Doug Green, was a crusader for justice, he closed down dozens of insurance companies (you can make enemies doing that), reducing the number locally domiciled from around 65 to 15, give or take.
Brown was a successful advocate for justice and unlike many "insurance regulators" did understand the intricacies of the "real" insurance world. Brown was most influential in being the lead US regulator in negotiating the future of Lloyd's in the United States at the point of "reconstruction and renewal" at the venerable insurance market. As an aside, I read a recent news report which quoted a former senior insurance regulator who postulated, "The end of Lloyd's would have left 300 insolvent insurance companies in the US, 51 in New York state alone."
It was therefore something of a shock when it Jim Brown was arrested and a federal jury convicted him in October 2000 for lying to an FBI agent about the liquidation of a failed insurance company. Brown completed his prison sentence in April 2003 and is on probation until 2005. It should be noted that the same Court acquitted Brown on 43 charges of fraud, conspiracy and witness tampering in the case. Brown made it plain that he was not able to contest all the charges and he couldn't properly defend himself against the false statement charges because he was unable to see the FBI agent's handwritten notes.
The National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) travel to New Orleans this weekend for their quarterly meeting, which is bound to be a super-charged affair post-Spitzer!
Insurance Newscast Inaugural “Book of the Day”
Tuesday, November 30, 2004
INSURANCE NEWSCAST is pleased to initiate a new daily feature, the INSURANCE NEWSCAST “Book Of The Day.” At the end of each newsletter, the daily book chosen will be featured, along with ordering information for convenience.
“Our first book is a perfect example of the benefit to this feature. It showcases a new release that may be of considerable interest to the insurance industry, that might not otherwise be able to climb above the plethora of information that competes for our attention,” said Walt Podgurski, CEO of InsuranceBroadcasting.com
“I am pleased to have this particular book as our first selection since I have met Jim Brown, and am familiar with the circumstances of his story” continued Mr. Podgurski. “I know it will be interesting and of value to the people that read it, and it has some extra relevance in light of the many investigations that have been recently originated.”
The message from Jim Brown is quite simple. If you are in the insurance business, keep your guard up. Brown was one of the country’s most respected regulators. Insurance groups throughout the nation praised the job he did in restoring Louisiana’s reputation as a fair and competitive place to do business.
But he was blind-sided by the Justice Department with charges that are still considered bazaar and without merit. Just read what the New Orleans Times Picayune said last week about Brown’s conviction. The paper said the case against Brown “was incompetent and unscrupulous, the prosecution’s theory of the case utterly preposterous and the trial a travesty.” Pretty strong for the state’s largest paper. As some in the industry have said: “If they can falsify charges against Jim Brown, they can do it to anyone in the insurance business.”
You can order Jim Brown’s new book by phone or on line, and at any book store Call toll free 1-800-339-2010 for phone orders. You can also order it by going to Jim’s new website at http://www.jimbrownla.com. Full information is available on this site plus excerpts from the book. It’s a great Christmas gift, so order your copies soon to beat the holiday rush. JUSTICE DENIED. A book every insurance professional should read. It’s now available at bookstores nationwide.
Brown: Justice Wasn't Served
Monday, November 29, 2004
His political career a memory, his prison sentence behind him, former Louisiana Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown will tell you clearly and emphatically that the justice system did him wrong.
After 32 years in public service to his adopted state, the former self-described "country lawyer" from Ferriday has a new case to plead and a new campaign to wage.
This time, his mission is to restore his legacy and to right what he says was an injustice delivered to him in the form of his guilty verdict two years ago. The six months that he served in federal prison in Oakdale, he said, no one can repay.
Brown will take his personal case and some ready-to-inscribe volumes of his "Justice Denied" published by The Lisburn Press, to Windows a Bookshop at 609 Park Ave., Monroe at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The book retails for $24.95.
"I think I have a story to tell," Brown said in an interview last week. His story began with a financially troubled insurance company, Cascade, and its battle with a Baton Rouge judge. It ended with a 56-count indictment in 1999 against Brown, who was eventually cleared of all charges save those that said he had lied to the FBI during its long-running investigation of Cascade.
Brown tells his story in a 400-page book, just released, that is surprisingly breezy in tone and compelling in content. He's got plenty of beefs about how his case was handled - including an anonymous jury, a gag order on the defendant, and a trial with too much secrecy for Brown's taste - and he has no shortage of supporters.
His chief complaint is that the evidence he believes would have saved him, the 14 pages of personal notes taken by an FBI agent who interviewed him ,were never turned over to the defense. When the notes were later revealed to one juror, she publicly said if she knew then what she learned later, she'd have voted for acquittal.
Jim Brown Puts His Grievances in Writing
Friday, November 19, 2004
Excerpts from Times-Picayune Review of Jim Brown's book Justice Denied
Eighteen months after his release from prison, former state Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown is still fuming and has come out with a book protesting his innocence.
Brown, who did six months for lying to the feds, is entitled to feel aggrieved.
The FBI investigation that snared him, former Gov. Edwin Edwards and others, was incompetent and unscrupulous, the prosecution's theory of the case utterly preposterous and the trial a travesty.
Brown, Edwards et al. were charged with rigging a sweetheart settlement for the benefit of David Disiere, owner of a failed insurance company called Cascade. In fact, the settlement guaranteed that neither taxpayers nor Cascade's creditors would lose a penny, and there was no suggestion that any of the defendants had received a payoff.
Judge Edith Brown Clement had imposed a gag order, and ordered that the jury remain anonymous, signaling that the defendants were such sinister characters that their right to a public trial must be abridged. The jury must have wondered what all the fuss was about, since it soon became apparent that no crime had been committed.
The jury threw prosecutors a bone, however, finding Brown guilty of lying to FBI agent Harry Burton when he was investigating the imaginary conspiracy. That was a peculiar thing for Brown to do; why he would want to conceal his entirely legal actions never was explained.
Brown maintained that Burton's typewritten summary of their interview, concocted some days later, was inaccurate. The only way to prove it would be to examine the notes Burton's took down by hand on the spot, but Clement refused to order prosecutors to hand them over to the defense.
Prosecutors' refusal to provide the handwritten notes naturally raised suspicions that they did not jibe with the summary given to the defense. If there were no discrepancies, why would prosecutors have balked?
If Burton did make an error, it wouldn't have been his first. He achieved immortality among crimefighters as the agent who forgot to turn the video camera on in time to record Edwards handing an envelope full of cash to Cleo Fields. By the time Burton pushed the button, Fields was already struggling to put the moolah in his pocket. A witness in Edwards' riverboat license-shakedown trial, also testified that he had been interviewed by Burton, who later produced a summary riddled with errors.
Brown claims that, when the handwritten notes came to light after the trial, they vindicated his claims. Clement, meanwhile, was promoted to the court of appeals. A panel of her new colleagues dismissed Brown's appeal, and he was off to prison.
Brown is not telling us much new in his book, "Justice Denied," because nobody who followed his case could possible doubt that, guilty or not, he was unlucky to be put on trial in a court that had an unmistakable whiff of the kangaroo.
Still, he has driven his point home here. The next time the FBI comes
calling he will be more circumspect.
Jim Brown Uses Book to Shape History
Sunday, December 5, 2004
Reprinted from the Monroe News-Star
Jim Brown didn’t flinch about the comparison to Richard Nixon or Bill Clinton, two men who left the presidency after serious mistakes of judgment in the White House, and then spent years trying to rehabilitate their images and historical legacy.
Just as they used their pens to shade their place in history in a more flattering light, so has Brown now self-published his own effort at historical rehabilitation, writing his version of the events that sent the former insurance commissioner to federal prison. But that’s where Brown politely ends the comparison.
Brown, who stopped by The Times last week, says he has nothing to be pardoned for. Instead, he makes a compelling case in Justice Denied that he was simply the innocent bystander in a drive-by political shooting engineered by federal prosecutors against Edwin Edwards. His federal trial involving a failed insurance company was marked by a gag order that blocked him from public comments about the case and the seating of an anonymous jury, a protective measure "only given for the trial of a Colombian drug lord.’’
The biggest issue for Brown was being blocked from seeing handwritten notes about his interview with an FBI investigator that didn’t jibe with the typed version given the jury. When the big fish, EWE, escaped prosecution, Brown’s alleged lying was all prosecutors were left with. So Brown did six months in prison.
Justice Denied is part diary, part indictment, part punditry. It’s focused on the trial to "unjustly convict me of false criminal charges," but with 30 years as legislator, secretary of state and insurance commissioner, Brown has a wealth of political anecdotes and commentary. It’s not William Manchester, but it’s readable, featuring fireside chats with former Gov. John McKeithen, campaign strategy sessions and oddities like the stranger at a Florida church who said "the Lord told me to tell you that this is all going to work out.’’
Whether or not Brown got a "bum rap,’’ as a security guard at FBI office in New Orleans told him, he is making a good run at shaping his corner of history.
Brown's New Book
Sunday, December 5, 2004
Jim Brown says he might be a U.S. senator today, instead of a convicted felon, if not for Bill Clinton's sex life.
The former state insurance commissioner ponders many "ifs" in his new book, "Justice Denied." The 409-page tome details the legal troubles that put Brown in federal prison for six months and ended a long political career.
"I'm not going to make a lot of money off this book," Brown said. "I just wanted to hammer home the message that I was screwed over."
In 2000 a jury convicted Brown of lying to an FBI agent about a legal settlement prosecutors said saved millions of dollars for the owner of failed Cascade Insurance Co.
Brown details a now-well-known list of grievances – that "Gestapo"-like judges favored the prosecution and ran roughshod over his rights; that the jury was anonymous and picked in secret; that he never got to see the FBI agent's notes that supposedly documented the lying; that even his accusers admit he gained nothing from the settlement; that he was only "lagniappe" to prosecutors trying to snag former Gov. Edwin Edwards.
The book also is sprinkled with other parts of Brown's life, including his attempt to get appointed to the U.S. Senate.
It was 1996. U.S. Sen. John Breaux was trying to convince his friend, President Bill Clinton, to name Breaux ambassador to France.
The hitch: Republican Louisiana Gov. Mike Foster would obviously name a Republican to fill the rest of Breaux's term. And Clinton needed all the Democratic votes he could get in the GOP-controlled Senate. So Clinton needed Breaux to stay put.
Brown, a lifelong Democrat, said he suggested he might be able to get Foster's appointment by arguing that Republicans should actually welcome it.
If the super-popular Breaux stayed in the Senate, Brown reasoned, he would easily win a third term in 1998 (that's what happened). If Breaux were freed to take the post in France, any Democratic replacement would be much easier for the GOP to challenge in 1998.
Brown said Foster seemed to buy the argument. But Brown said the deal fell apart when Breaux sadly reported that "several controversies were brewing in the president's personal activities," and he needed Breaux in the Senate more than ever.
At the time, federal prosecutors were stepping up the Whitewater investigation. Paula Jones was nearing her day in court over her lawsuit alleging Clinton made improper advances. And Clinton was dallying with White House intern Monica Lewinsky.
Breaux did not return calls seeking comment on Brown's story. Foster confirms only that Brown was one of several good people interested in the seat if it became open.
The story is not all new. Some of it was secretly recorded by federal agents, and later played in court, because Brown discussed the appointment with Edwards when Edwards' law office was bugged by federal agents.
Brown said he visited Edwards to seek political advice. Federal prosecutors said he saw Edwards to conspire to aid Cascade's owner, whom Edwards was representing.
The story says a lot about Brown.
For one thing, it shows he was close enough to Edwards to seek advice on such a sensitive political issue. Brown also acknowledged he discussed the politics of the Cascade case many times with Edwards.
In hindsight, a friendship and frequent insurance-related talks with Edwards by an insurance commissioner who called himself a reformer seems suspect and politically unwise.
The story also highlights the energy, ambition and political creativity Brown exhibited during a nearly three-decade political career. Who else would have approached Foster and Breaux with such a daring proposal?
Surely the brutal end of that career weighs heavy on such a political animal. Brown must miss it terribly.
Brown, now 64, whose wife's family is wealthy, said he travels a lot and enjoys his family a lot more than he did before.
"Sure I miss public life. I'm just trying to make the best of it," he said.
An Interesting Book by an Interesting Character
Wednesday, December 8, 2004
AMAZON.com Book Review
Jim Brown is one of the few living Louisiana political legends. He has survived decades of tiresome political campaigns and more recently a six month prison sentence for (allegedly) lying to the Federal Bureau of Investigations. Much of the book is Jim's account of what happened to him before, during and after the investigation and trial. However, there is much more to the book than just that. Brown weaves throughout the tome the story of his life as a college athlete, politician and family man. There is much in this one for the Louisiana political junkie. Former Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards, a close political associate and friend of Brown's who is currently serving out a federal prison sentence of his own, is mentioned many times in the book. If you want more insight into the wacky, subterranean world of Louisiana politics, then Justice Denied is well worth the read. Brown tells it straight and from his story the intuitive can glean much on how things are done the "Louisiana Way."