Former La. Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown recently sat down with Insurance Journal staff writer Kevin O’Reilly to discuss his release from prison, his plans to clear his name, what the future holds for him, and much more. The full interview will appear in the June 9 issue of Insurance Journal Texas/South Central and Insurance Journal West.
What have you done in the last six months?
Former Louisiana Commissioner Jim Brown lost 28 pounds, read 100 books, cooked for hundreds of people daily and squeezed in a weekly World Wide Web column between two book projects. Of course, he did it all during a six-month stint in federal prison, after having been convicted on seven charges related to lying to an FBI agent. He was acquitted of charges of fixing the liquidation of Shreveport, La.-based Cascade Insurance Co. on terms favorable to its owner.
During the trial, Brown’s lawyers asked for the FBI agent’s notes to be admitted into evidence, suggesting the notes would prove Brown’s side of the story, but the judge would not allow it. Now Brown, released April 11, said he’s pursuing a new trial based on that and other evidence.
IJ: What have you been up to since your release from prison?
JB: I’ve been home in Baton Rouge doing the same stuff I was doing before my six-month sabbatical. If you have to go away for two or three years, you have to give up a lot of projects and commitments. But for only six months, that’s such a short time that I’ve tried to hang on to a number of projects I’ve been involved in. But I’ve got to catch up. I have a six-month backlog. There are 500 letters I haven’t had a chance to open up yet, and 5,000 e-mails that I haven’t been able to acknowledge.
IJ: What kind of projects have you been involved in?
JB: I’ve been getting calls from people throughout the country who have state concerns in Louisiana. And until three weeks ago I was the third most senior insurance commissioner in the country. I’ve been doing a lot with regard to surplus lines involving the international market, things involving Lloyd’s, and what’s going to happen in the next six months to a year.
So I’m spending a lot of time giving perspective on mostly national issues, such as the healthcare debate. Sen. John Breaux of Louisiana[‘s plan] is one of the integral parts to the healthcare solution, and I share my perspective on Sen. Breaux’s approach. I offer some suggestions on what may work and what may not work. I also discuss surplus lines problems, post-9/11 what we’re going to be doing with alternatives in insurance.
I’ve been offered a number of business opportunities, particularly internationally. I’ve had offers to travel to several countries as their regulatory climates seem to be changing state offered what limited insurance might be available. As they take a more private sector approach, someone like myself might be of help in doing that kind of thing.
I’ve also been doing a lot of speaking engagements, particularly for businessmen on how to keep out of trouble with the federal government. I’ve booked a speaking tour with the different insurance groups and associations. I’ve also written a book about everything that’s transpired, and I hope that it will be published late this summer. I’m two-thirds of the way through a book on the prison system about waste in prison, the lack of an effort to truly rehabilitate prisoners. So I’m speaking, consulting, writing. I’ve got a full agenda.
IJ: What’s the title of your book and what is it about?
JB: I Won’t Back Down is the working title, that’s from the Tom Petty song. It ends the day I entered prison. I’m still protesting strongly, and still asserting my innocence. I still have options by the way. I have six more months to ask for a new trial based on newly discovered evidence, and I will be looking at every single avenue available.
The second book is about how I dealt with prison life. Ninety percent of my companions were convicted drug felons. How did I deal with that? I was offended as a taxpayer because there was no rehabilitation going on. I think that’s wrong. Prisoners were released without having any training, no education, no computer skills. Fifty percent of those who are released go back to prison again.
IJ: How do you feel you were wronged?
JB: There are a lot of serious questions raised about what I was supposed to have done, but I have to face the fact that I was convicted.
There have been jurors who came forth saying it was a tragedy I was convicted. In virtually every case where a public official was convicted, he benefited in some way. He was compromised by benefiting himself. Nobody ever accused me of taking a penny illegally. The fact that there’s no personal gain, that makes it more attractive for people to say, ³Brown got a bum rap.” I think there’s been some interest there.
I was convicted of making false statements to an FBI agent. I’m the first person in history of America convicted of making false statements. I could not see his notes, and we could not cross-examine him. No conviction ever allowed that before. After I was found guilty, now the handwritten notes have been released and confirm exactly what I said. The fellow flat-out lied. One of the jurors in my trial said if she’d seen the notes she would not have voted to convict.
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