Courts should get on with Philly Rep. Vanessa Brown's bribery case | Editorial

Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown on March 11, 2011. ( ELIZABETH ROBERTSON / Staff Photographer )

Since 2014, West Philadelphia Democratic Rep. Vanessa Lowery Brown has voted on four state budgets and countless bills affecting the well-being of Pennsylvanians.

Her career has been unremarkable except for one thing: All of these votes were cast after she was arrested in December 2014 on corruption charges.  She has been able to manipulate the legal system to avoid justice for years.

Brown is accused of  accepting $4,000 in cash bribes from an undercover informant, who recorded their interactions. In one 2011 meeting, the informant handed her an envelope containing $2,000. She peeked inside and said, “Yo, good-looking and ooh whee…Thank you twice.”

She has admitted to taking the bribes before the grand jury investigating the case. At one point, she was even set to plead guilty — but then she changed her mind.

Brown has so shrewdly used the legal system that she is the only one of six public officials caught up in a 2011 sting whose case has not been closed. The five others (four state representatives and a Traffic Court judge) have pleaded guilty or no contest and left office.

Brown has switched lawyers three times and her current attorney has dropped a mountain of motions on the court.

As a result, her trial has been delayed at least a dozen times. Common Pleas Court Judge Scott Evans’ office now says he’s waiting for a decision from Superior Court on a motion to dismiss the case before he can schedule a trial.

Meanwhile, according to the Allentown Morning Call, Lowery was further charged in February 2018 with filing a fake financial disclosure statement.

Brown deserves to have her day in court — but four years of delays is too long to wait for results. Her case is the last loose end in one of the most disgraceful periods of Pennsylvania’s political history. It started in 2013, when former Attorney General Kathleen Kane tried to kill the investigation into Brown and five others. In 2014, staff writers Craig R. McCoy and Angela Couloumbis exposed Kane’s efforts and, ultimately, former Philadelphia District Attorney Seth Williams took the cases over, securing guilty or no-contest pleas from five defendants.

In the time the public has waited for Brown’s case to come up, both Kane and Williams self-destructed over other matters.

But Brown still hangs on in a legal limbo. Veteran lawyers say this lengthy gap between arrest and trial is highly unusual, especially in corruption cases when it is in the public’s best interest to come to a speedy conclusion.

It’s legal for Brown to hold office and collect her paycheck while defending herself on corruption charges.  But that doesn’t make it right. Not only won’t she resign, but the city’s feckless Democratic and Republican Parties don’t have the leadership to run candidates against her.

That leaves it to the courts to get some justice for the public. The Superior Court should make up its mind and send the case back to Judge Evans. He should insist on a speedy conclusion to this case so Pennsylvania can have the full attention of a representative who isn’t sidetracked by playing the justice system to her own advantage.