Pennsylvania Representative Vanessa Lowery Brown was found guilty on seven charges related to bribery in a Harrisburg courtroom on Wednesday. Despite the conviction Brown remains on the ballot for the November 6th election, running unopposed.
Vanessa Lowery Brown: in the dock…
Brown, who has represented West Philadelphia’ 190th State House District for most of a decade, was caught taking $4,000 in bribes in a 2010 sting operation that snared four other state legislators and a judge.
The operation was secretly shut down for several years by then Pennsylvania Attorney General Kathleen G. Kane before being exposed by the Philadelphia Inquirer in 2014.
Of the six bribery defendants, Vanessa Lowery Brown was the only one to go to trial. Four pleaded guilty and one pleaded no contest.
Brown’s defense was a tricky one, as she had been filmed accepting the cash from agents, saying, “Ooh, good looking! … Thank you twice.”
Her lawyers mostly stuck to arguments about the nature of the sting operation, arguing that it had unfairly targeted African-Americans and Democrats.
The jury deliberated for four hours and convicted Brown on all counts, including six felonies. Brown’s attorneys say they will appeal.
…and on the ballot…
Coming less than a week before polling day, Brown’s conviction comes too late for her to be removed from the ballot. As she is running unopposed, she will also certainly be reelected.
But Brown is also unlikely to serve. Being a convicted felon she is prevented from serving in the state legislature by the Pennsylvania state constitution.
Speaking to the Philadelphia Tribune, election lawyer Lawrence Tabas explained the awkward choice facing voters in the 190th District.
“The fact that this conviction comes at a very late date will cause confusion to the voters because, while she’ll be on the ballot the voters’ only choices are to either write in the name of a candidate or to be electing someone and voting for someone who is eligible under our Constitution to serve.”
House Democratic caucus leader Bill Patton has confirmed that Brown he is not expecting to work with Brown in future. If Brown does not resign before she is sentenced the House is expected to expel her.
“We don’t expect her to be serving any part of that term,” Patton said.
After stepping down or being expelled, a special election would be scheduled to take place within 60 days.
…but with a pension?
Vanessa Lowery Brown’s political career may be over now, but she may try to cling on for her own personal reasons. If she resigns or is expelled from the House she would be ineligible for her pension.
Her pension has been a concern for some time, according to the Inquirer editorial board, who wrote the day after her conviction, “Brown manipulated the court system and postponed her trial for four years, hoping that she’d be in office long enough to qualify for a state pension.”
Brown is just one of many current or former state legislators ensnared by investigations this year, including former Arkansas State Senator Hank Wilkins, and Ohio Speaker of the House Cliff Rosenberger.