Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Gifts or Bribes? Prosecutor took donations from defendants who received leniency

This is a rather stunning story out of Brown County, and affirms why it was never a good idea to allow prosecutors to accept bribes gifts from people in their jurisdiction.
Most prosecutors in Texas are barred by state law from taking gifts from people in their jurisdiction. Among the ethical questions such arrangements could raise, the most basic is that a defendant could simply buy his way out of punishment for a crime. Yet for nearly a decade, the Brown County Attorney’s Office has arguably done something similar. [County Attorney Shane] Britton has made “donations” from defendants the foundation of a pretrial diversion program that lets people avoid prosecution for drunk driving, driving without a license, shoplifting and other misdemeanors. In this way, hundreds of defendants have paid a combined $250,000 since 2008 to cover travel to conferences, cellphones for Britton and his staff, and advertisements in the Brownwood High School cheer calendar, according to county records. By covering other office costs with donations, Britton was even able to convince county leaders to boost salaries for himself and his staff.
In Texas, paying for cops, courts and prosecutors with fees from defendants has gotten more and more popular over the years. But what happens when the drive to do justice on the cheap collides with a rogue prosecutor? 
Only in the last year has Britton’s office started to get critical attention from the county’s legal community. And in the tight-knit courthouse, it’s hard to miss the Texas Rangers collecting records regarding his office, or the rumors of an FBI investigation into whether donations were accepted off the books. When county leaders commissioned a forensic audit of the fund, they found huge gaps in record-keeping that suggested, at best, a casual approach to taking money from defendants. At worst, his critics allege, he ran an illegal collection scheme for over a decade that blurred the lines between fees, donations and bribes.
Read the whole thing, and kudos to Patrick Michels of the Texas Observer. He did a great job with this story.


Anonymous said...

Which opens up a whole other can of worms: is it actually legal for a prosecutor's office to run and operate (directly or through a private vendor) a pre-trial diversion program?

Joe Cooksey said...

Michels from the Observer did a great job on the story. There are issues that go deeper and the article is just the tip of the iceberg. I was interviewed by the FBI and Texas Rangers back in late 2014. The investigation has been completed by law enforcement. We are all waiting on the US attorney's office in Lubbock to get off their collective backsides and take the issues to the federal grand jury.

Steve Harris said...

"Shane Britton is a wonderful Christian man who is very good at what he does."

Joe Cooksey said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Gritsforbreakfast said...

@Joe Cooksey. The attorney in the case you were discussing provided evidence that some of your alleged facts - particularly the timing of payments - were false, therefore IMO per se libelous, so I deleted it. E.g., the expunction occurred in 2015 well after the disputed payment was made, not the same day. If you're going to make such accusations, you must get the details right, not just the broad strokes.

Joe Cooksey said...

Grits.... I stand by my facts 110%. The expunction petition was cause #CV1111403. The first 2 digits represent the year the petition was filed. It was filed either November 15 or 16, 2011 and the petition was granted on either January 5 or 6, 2012. The lawyer is lying. Go to Brown County Watchdawg on Facebook for the documents. My homework is always 110%.