Rep. Vanessa Brown's trial postponed again; Philly DA's legal troubles at issue

Vanessa Lowery Brown initially agreed to plead guilty but later changed her mind.

HARRISBURG – State Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown’s corruption trial has been postponed yet again, following an eleventh-hour attempt to dismiss her case based on the mounting legal troubles facing the man who brought the charges against her: Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams.

Dauphin County Judge Scott Evans late Tuesday pushed back Brown’s trial, which was to begin Monday, until mid-June. The trial has been rescheduled several times since Brown, a Democrat from Philadelphia, was charged in late 2014 with accepting cash in envelopes during an undercover sting investigation.

Brown’s lawyer, Patrick A. Casey, had argued in court papers earlier this week that Williams’ decision to remove himself from the office’s legal decisions in the aftermath of federal corruption charges had created an “incurable conflict” for the office to continue prosecuting Brown.

Casey contends that Williams’ recusal means his second-in-command, Kathleen Martin, is in charge of those decisions. And Martin, Casey wrote in legal papers, has a conflict because she is married to a lawyer for Tyron Ali, the undercover operative in the sting case and the star witness against Brown.

Martin also worked at the same law firm as her husband, Robert Levant, when Levant represented Ali.

“This incurable conflict taints the prosecution,” wrote Casey, of the Scranton-based firm of Myers, Brier & Kelly LLP.

In his ruling to postpone the trial, Evans gave Williams’ office 10 days to respond. Martin said the DA's Office was "reviewing" the motion.

Brown is the last defendant in the case that grew out of a sting investigation by the Pennsylvania Attorney General's Office between 2009 and 2012 in which Ali offered cash or money orders in exchange for official favors, recording the conversations.

Former Attorney General Kathleen Kane secretly shut down the case in 2013, but Williams resurrected it the next year.

Williams' office later charged six elected officials in the case. Of those, five have pleaded guilty or no contest. Brown, the remaining defendant, is charged with taking $4,000 from Ali.

She initially agreed to plead guilty, and even provided testimony before the grand jury in Philadelphia during which she admitted that she had taken the money and that she knew it was wrong, according to court documents. She later changed her mind and decided to fight the charges.

Casey has filed several motions to dismiss the case that remain unresolved, including one contending that Brown, who is African American, was a victim of entrapment and that prosecutors targeted her because of her party affiliation and race.