Brown County Judge Ray West cautioned Rep. Mike Lang in a letter Tuesday morning against relying “on mass media reports” about the pretrial diversion donation program operated by Brown County Attorney Shane Britton. West said he and Lang “must take steps to improve communications between our offices.”
    West also urged Lang to contact him or any county commissioner in the future when he is proposing legislation that would have a direct impact on Brown County. West said Lang did not contact him before filing a bill last month that would repeal the pretrial diversion donation program. West also said he fully supports Lang’s bill, but noted in the letter that “the donation procedure was abandoned in 2015.”
    West’s letter was a response to Lang’s “open letter to Brown County officials” Monday. Lang’s office sent the letter to West after West’s comments during the Brown County Commissioners Court Monday morning.
    West commented briefly during the commissioners court meeting about bills filed by Lang and Sen. Dawn Buckingham. Buckingham’s bill would prohibit a prosecutor or commissioner’s court from requiring a gift or grant as a condition of pretrial intervention.
    West said he met with Lang and Buckingham in Austin last week and asked them what the "catalyst" was for the bills, and “their response was, ‘they told us this, and they told us that.’ I said ‘who is they?’ And they said 'the press.'"
    Lang said in Monday’s letter:
    ”In my opinion, Brown County's situation with the county attorney's donation program should already have been terminated. The legislation I have filed will do the 'right thing' for the citizens of Brown County.
    "As per our conversation in my office in Austin, there is a problem with the donation program in the county attorney's office. There seems to be little or no oversight from this office or from the commissioners court. Surely you and the court agree that returning a repeat DWI offender back on the streets to do harm is not good for the citizens of Brown County.
    "This 2007 donation program is an injustice to the citizens and has left a trail of victims. I am an elected official like you and we both serve the great people of Brown County. I hope for the sake of the people you, the commissioners and the county attorney will now take the chance you have with House Bill 2273 and do the 'right thing.' The county attorney already publicly endorsed my bill. I look forward to your support as well."
    West replied in his letter Tuesday:
    “I am in receipt of your letter of March 6, 2017 responding to my comments in Commissioners Court on Monday. The tenor of your letter is somewhat combative, and I am perplexed as to the reason for your evident displeasure. This response is certainly not intended to be contentious, but I feel the facts reported to you should be set straight.
    “If you have the opportunity to listen to an audio tape of my comments, you will conclude that I was not at all critical of the bill nor of your or Senator Buckingham. As you will recall from our conversation on Thursday, my only concern was that you had not contacted me nor may commissioner about a bill that has a direct impact on Brown County. You may also recall that I was in every way supportive of the bill, and in fact, questioned the “donation legislation” as being contrary to Texas law. As I explained, the authority to accept donations to the county is within the exclusive province of the Commissioners Court. I will reiterate my statement to you during our March 2 meeting … I am, unconditionally, in favor of repealing the “donation legislation” that was passed in 2007.
    “You should be aware that the donation procedure was abandoned in 2015, so your comment that the “county attorney’s donation program should already have been terminated” is moot. Unfortunately, facts such as these are conveniently omitted by news reports. If you desire to be informed of the current state of the “donation procedure” the best source of information is the Brown County Attorney’s Office of my office.
    “One other matter that I would address is the reliance by your office on mass media reports. It is an unfortunate fact that our mass media has a tendency to sensationalize any news item. The donation fund is no exception.
    “You have also been woefully mislead with regard to the availability of the pretrial diversion program to a repeat DWI offender. At no time has a repeat DWI defendant been placed under the pretrial diversion program, and certainly no repeat DWI offender has been given the opportunity to pay a ‘donation’ in exchange for dismissal.
    “As to the ‘trail of victims’ referred to in your letter, I would offer the following observation: pretrial diversions were always agreed to by the defendant, defendant’s attorney, as well as the county prosecutor and the court. I fail to see how such an agreement would victimize the defendant or the county.
    “I have no desire to take issue with you as to the benefit of your proposed legislation. The purpose of this response is simply to clarify the facts, and to urge you to contact me or any commissioner when you propose any legislation that has a direct impact on Brown County. My unannounced visit to you on Thursday was not for the purposes of debating the merits of your proposal, but rather to respectfully request that you contact me about any proposed bill that directly impacts Brown County, and to express my support for the bill. In short, we must take steps to improve communications between our two offices.”