A Madison County judge called Linda Brune's bluff and issued a bench warrant for her arrest last Wednesday after she failed to appear in court at an October hearing. Ms. Brune is the former secretary for Downtown Jackson Partners. DJP sued Ms. Brune for embezzlement and seeks her deposition. DJP fired MS. Brune for providing records to the Clarion-Ledger after Jerry Mitchell published a story on DJP spending.
Downtown Jackson Partners asked Judge Will Longwitz to hold former employee Linda Brune in contempt of court for refusing to participate in a deposition. DJP accused her of embezzling over $40,000 in a lawsuit filed nearly two years ago. Judge Will Longwitz held a hearing to determine whether he should compel her deposition in October but Ms. Brune did not appear at the hearing. She instead attended the motion hearings that were held in State v. Robert Shuler Smith even though she was not subpoenaed to be there. DJP Executive Director Ben Allen is under indictment for allegedly embezzling and misusing DJP funds.
Judge Will Longwitz ruled that Ms. Brune should provide a deposition to DJP at a witness room in the Madison County Courthouse on November 1 at 2:00 PM. The defendant did not appear for the deposition. DJP submitted the motion for contempt the next day.
Ms. Brune has refused to provide a deposition in this lawsuit. She sent an email to Judge Longwitz's court administrator on September 21 that stated:
I will not be available for depositions or any related matter to this case until after the criminal trial of Downtown Jackson Partners' president. I have no attorney at this time but he will be available, hopefully in December. I will be available any time after the aforementioned trial is over.
She made it clear she would not provide any testimony in this case in a response that was submitted to the court in October:
Having testified before the Hinds County Grand Jury regarding the case against Benjamin Wade Allen, President of Downtown Jackson Partners (hereafter DJP), I am under oath to reveal/discuss nothing regarding DJP until after that trial, which is scheduled for November 28, 2016, in the Hinds County Circuit Court. Mr. Allen was indicted on ten counts of embezzlement and misuse of funds belonging to DJP. Preparation for that trial has been time consuming and stressful for me. I, respectfully, request that Judge Longwitz delay ALL proceedings regarding this issue until after that trial.
Ms. Brune all but told the court to throw her in jail in the same response:
Realizing that I might be held in contempt of court by refusing to cooperate in this hearing, I am ready to accept the consequences. If I go to jail for that refusal, I will have housing, food, medical treatment and other necessities, some of which I do not have at this lime. These people can do nothing more to me. I have lost everything, including my job, all assets, medical and life insurance. My credit is in the toilet and I have lost respect from some in the community. I simply have nothing else to lose.
While DJP made every attempt to have me indicted for embezzlement after I was fired from my employment with same, that case was no billed by the Hinds County Grand Jury.* According to the Detective assigned to that case, DJP urged them to arrest me on Christmas Day in 2014. I provide that information to show the malicious intent and retaliation by DJP. Since that case was no billed in Hinds County, DJP is taking a second bite of that apple in Madison County.
Under these circumstances, I decline to cooperate with Mr. Begley's request for information regarding this case or any case regarding DJP until after the trial of DJP President. I am prepared to take any consequence involved but will not subject myself to contempt in Hinds County to satisfy a possible order in Madison County.
The gauntlet was thrown and picked up - by both sides.
Linda Brune provided several boxes of Downtown Jackson Partners documents to the State Auditor and the Clarion-Ledger in 2014 while she was employed as a secretary by DJP. Reporter Jerry Mitchell had a field day and garnered several front page headlines for his scoop. However, the media did not report DJP sued its former employee for embezzlement.
Downtown Jackson Partners sued Linda Brune on December 10, 2014 in Madison County Court for allegedly embezzling $40,439. The lawsuit also states she was "terminated on July 25, 2014 for sharing confidential corporate information with a reporter from the Clarion-Ledger." Ms. Brune is a resident of Madison County.
The complaint states that Ms. Brune worked as DJP's administrative assistant for several years prior to her termination. She was allowed to "fill out" checks but did not have signature authority. DJP alleges that she "embezzled 38 check instruments representing a total sum of $40,439" by making checks payable to herself and "forging Mr. Allen's signature on each of the checks." She would then allegedly alter the payee's name on the bank statements by "whiting out" (no racism intended) her name and replacing it with the name of a vendor. She would then allegedly copy the altered statement so evidence of the whiteout would not appear. The complaint charges her with several counts of fraud, conversion, breach of fiduciary duty, and unjust enrichment. DJP asked for damages and attorney's fees. Attorney Sam Begley represents DJP.
Ms. Brune replied with the standard denials one usually sees in an answer and accused DJP of forum shopping. She then threw a few charges of her own at DJP:
"Defendant was given no reason for termination after 17 years of employment with him at the City Council and at Downtown Jackson Partners. Moreover, nothing should be confidential at DJP as they are funded by tax dollars and open to examination of all documents. Mr. Allen's misuse i.e. giving money to those in his favor, laundering money for various organizations, giving checks to his son's friends for non-existent events to be held to promote Jackson totaling $10,000 plus dollars.
She argues that any funds withdrawn from DJP accounts were delivered directly to Mr. Allen. She claims she was "loyal to a fault" and doesn't have the money to "reimburse his slush fund." Nothing else was filed in the case after Ms. Brune submitted her answer. The case is assigned to Judge Will Longwitz. Ms. Brune represents herself. DJP also subpoenaed records from two Vicksburg casinos and State Bank & Trust.
DJP has since sought to depose Ms. Brune. However, Hinds County District Attorney Robert Shuler Smith attempted to prevent her deposition in a letter sent to DJP last May. Mr. Smith stated she could not testify since she is a victim in the case although the indictments state DJP is the victim of the misuse of funds. The letter stated:
The State of Mississippi represents Ms. Linda Brune as a victim In the criminal case of State of Mississippi versus Benjamin Wade Allen. She will not be available for depositions or any other matter related to the civil dispute in the above-referenced until she has retained counsel to respond to numerous requests by DJP. Further, she has advised that she will request the Court to hold any civil matter in abeyance until the disposition of the criminal matter. Further, she has received correspondence requesting that she waive her right to a trial by jury. She vehemently opposes to waiving her rightto a trial by jury, or any other rights.Downtown Jackson Partners and the court apparently ignored the District Attorney.
If you have anything further regarding this matter, please direct your correspondence to our office. Her new counsel with be in touch with you in the very near future. Thank you. Earlier post.
The complete court file is posted below.