Brown County Attorney Shane Britton said he “absolutely” has no plans to resign from office after two highly critical stories about him were published recently in the Texas Observer monthly magazine and on KTXS-TV.
    The stories quote sources who say Britton has been involved in corruption and bribery in the way his office operated a pre-trial diversion program for first-time misdemeanor defendants.
     Britton — who begins his fifth term in January — hinted to the Texas Observer that his time in office might end soon.
    That was an “off-the-cuff” comment that should not be interpreted that he’s going to quit, Britton said when asked Thursday, making  his first comments to the media after the stories were published.
    The Observer published the story in its December edition,  followed closely by a story broadcast KTXS-TV and on its website.
    In June, Brown County Auditor Jennifer Robison sought an opinion from Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton’s office about the legality of the pre-trial diversion program. The opinion is pending.
    Britton, while clearly aware of the Observer and KTXS stories, declined to discuss specific allegations in the stories.
    The stories quote sources who maintain Britton has taken “off-the-books” donations from some defendants in misdemeanor cases who paid money to have their cases dismissed.
    “It is ridiculous to suggest that I would accept money in exchange for a dismissal in a criminal case,” Britton said.
    The KTXS story states Britton’s office is under state and federal investigation.
    Britton would neither confirm nor deny if he is aware of an investigation, but said, “It would not surprise me if there was a criminal investigation into the allegation of missing money.”
    Sources quoted in the Observer and KTXS stories include former Brown County Chief Deputy Bobby Duvall and government watchdog Joe Cooksey. Cooksey believes Britton “started taking some donations (from defendants) in cash, completely off the books,” the Observer article states. “Auditors counted thousands of misdemeanor cases that were closed without a clear reason. Cooksey thinks under-the- table deals could account for many of those.”
    The Observer article, headlined “Making Crime Pay and Pay and Pay …” states in a subhead: “In Texas, paying for cops, courts and prosecutors with fees from defendants has become more and more popular. But what happens when the drive to do just on the cheap collides with a rogue prosecutor?”
    The article states: “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.”
    The KTXS story published on the station’s website says Duvall believes Britton “is involved in corruption and bribery under the guise of a program to provide lenient sentences for minor offenses.”
    Duvall said Cooksey had brought the allegations to the attentions of the sheriff’s office, which passed on the investigation to state and federal officials, KTXS said.
    “Once the allegation was made by Mr. Cooksey, law enforcement had an obligation to investigate,” Britton said Thursday.

Request for attorney general opinion    
    Robison sought the attorney general’s opinion on Britton’s pre-trial diversion program in a June 4 letter posted on the attorney general’s website.
    Britton’s office has used pretrial diversion agreements with defendants for many years, Robison’s letter states. In 2007, the Texas Legislature passed a bill presented by Rep. Jim Keffer pertaining to Brown County’s pretrial diversion program.
    Then-Assistant County Attorney Ryan Locker presented the proposal to the legislation. After the Legislature enacted the law, Britton began to utilize it to require donations to be paid to his office as part of pretrial diversion agreements, Robison’s letter states.
    Robison, who was appointed Brown County auditor by District Judge Steve Ellis on June 1, stated in her seven-page letter she’s sure pretrial diversion programs, when done lawfully and properly administered, “can be a good thing for all concerned. Rehabilitation can take place without punishment that is overly harsh.”
    But requiring defendants to make payments to a prosecuting attorney’s office “in exchange for more lenient treatment or dismissal of their cases under the guise of calling these payments ‘donations’ appears to me to create a major problem,” Robison’s letter states.
    “There is an obvious potential for abusing the practice of exacting a donation or other payment which directly or indirectly benefits the very prosecuting attorney who is the one requiring to to be paid in the first place, especially if there can be serious consequences” to a defendant who does not pay.
    Britton told the Bulletin at that time that he’s done nothing wrong and operated the pre-trial diversion and donations program based on the 2007 legislation.
    “While the questions asked are very important questions, I am surprised in the number of factual allegations that are not true,” Britton said “ … However, I ultimately look forward to the Attorney General answering the legal questions.”
    Britton said the donation from a pre-trial diversion defendant totaled $1,500 including $750 to the county attorney’s office.
    Britton said state law changed after the 2007 legislation presented by Keffer. He said the program is now called the Brown County Misdemeanor First Time Offenders Program, and sets the cost to the defendant at $980 — $500 to the county attorney’s office and $480 to the probation office.
    Robison posed four questions in her letter:
    • Whether the county attorney can lawfully agree with defendants, in misdemeanor criminal cases, to refrain from prosecuting a violation of law if the defendant agrees to “donate” or otherwise pay money to Britton’s office as part of pretrial diversion agreements with his office;
    • Whether a judge can legally order defendants in misdemeanor criminal cases to make “donations” to Britton’s office as part of a pretrial diversion agreement with his office;
• Whether the “donations” or payments otherwise received can be lawfully transferred from the county attorney’s office’s donation fund at Britton’s request, and with the approval of the commissioners court, be commingled with money in the county attorney’s hot check fund to supplement staff salaries of Britton’s office;
    • Whether a defendant in a misdemeanor case can be really required to pay a pretrial diversion fee to the county clerk or county attorney as part of a pretrial diversion agreement with Britton if it is not ordered by a court, and if it is not related to reimbursing the county for expense related to the pretrial intervention program, or as a probation fee.
    “In exchange for favorable disposition of their cases normally through a pretrial diversion agreement, the Brown County attorney appears to require … the alleged offender to contribute to the prosecutor’s donation fund, claiming it is authorized because of the (2007) legislation,” Robison’s letter states.
    “ … I do not feel I will be doing my job … if I simply rubber stamp the county attorney’s request for monthly transfer of sums out of the county attorney donation account into his hot check fund over which the (commissioners court) and I have no control.” Robison raised other points in her letter including her assertion that county commissioners had agreed with a proposal from Britton in 2008 that the county attorney would pay more of his staff salaries out of the hot check fund. It was part of an overall plan that would give Britton a $15,000 annual raise, Robison’s letter states.
    When the hot check fund had less money than in previous years, Robison’s letter stated, Britton would request that money be transferred from the county attorney hot check fund for staff salaries.
    Britton said he believed the donation program “was a very good program that gave first time offenders a second chance, and at the same time benefitted the taxpayers of Brown County by placing more of the burden or prosecution on the backs of criminal defendants.”
    Britton has since filed a response with the Attorney General’s Office.
    While Robison asked four “important and compelling question,” Britton wrote in his response, it is apparent “these issues arise out of a political squabble that is best answered by the voters of Brown County.”
    Britton wrote that Robision’s letter “relates to irrelevant, untrue and salacious allegations.”
    Britton’s lengthy response included several paragraphs about Roberson’s assortment that Britton received a $15,000 annual raise through the co-mingling of funds collected through hot check prosecutions.
    In July 2008, Britton wrote, his salary was $75,440, and in August 2009 his salary was $87,418, and increase of just under $12,000. That amount is $8,205 more than he would have received if his only increase had been the 5 percent cost of living raise all county employees received in August 2009.