At least some tension was inevitable at the bizarre scene Wednesday afternoon outside the Brown County Courthouse as longtime foes occupied a small piece of real estate.
Brown County Judge-elect Paul Lilly called a press conference to comment on the federal investigation into Brown County Attorney Shane Britton. Media representatives included a television reporter who has done several highly critical stories on Britton; longtime Britton nemesis Joe Cooksey was also present.
Against the backdrop of preparing for his mother-in-law’s funeral, Britton, accompanied by his wife, Paige and several other family members, walked up as Lilly prepared to begin speaking. Paige Britton introduced herself to Lilly and had a brief conversation in which she recounted the death Saturday of her mother, Ann Fisher, whose funeral is Friday. She tried, unsuccessfully, to prevent the television reporter from videoing her conversation with Lilly.
Britton has not been charged or indicted, and it is unclear where federal prosecutors in Lubbock — who received the case from Texas Rangers in December 2016 — are going with the investigation.
Lilly began the press conference by saying he’d been ill and unable to return all of the phone calls he’s been receiving. “A lot of the inquiries I’m getting are on the status of the investigation into the county attorney’s office,” Lilly said. “All I want to say is that I do not have any new information available on that whatsoever.
“As I understand it, there is an ongoing investigation that’s being handled by the U.S. Attorney’s Office. I’m just the judge elect. I don’t even take office until Jan. 1 but I have no new information whatsoever.”
Lilly said he wants those who have left messages to know that he’s heard them. “I ask what’s often the hardest thing in the world to ask — that you continue to have patience, let the system run its course,” Lilly said.
“If any of these allegations are baseless, the investigation will show that, and if any of them require any further action, I’ll find out when everyone else does. … You can ask all the questions that you want, but I really have no new information whatsoever. I haven’t talked to anyone about this situation.”
The television reporter called out, “Mr. Britton, do you have anything to say?”
Britton responded, “What have I said the last 20 times you’ve asked me that question?”
Local defense attorney Tommy Adams, who was standing near Britton, then addressed Lilly. “Notwithstanding the fact that there’s nothing you can do about this one way or the other, do you realize that Mrs. Britton’s mother just died and they’re home today mourning her, and you pull this?” Adams said.
“Very professional. Very compassionate.”
Lilly replied that the press conference had been scheduled Monday, and that Paige Britton had just told him about her mother’s death. “She just told me, and I do apologize,” Lilly said.
After Lilly finished speaking, Britton and Cooksey had a brief but intense conversation.
In December 2016, the Texas Observer and a television station published scathing stories in which they quoted sources who said Britton was involved in corruption and bribery in the way his office operated a pre-trial diversion program for first-time misdemeanor defendants.
Also in December 2016, the Texas Department of Public Safety announced the Texas Rangers had turned their investigation into “allegations of misconduct in Brown County” over to the U.S. Attorney’s Office.
While the DPS didn’t specify in the announcement who was being investigated, it was widely assumed — and reported in ongoing media accounts — that the announcement referred to Britton.
In April 2014, Bobby Duvall, who was chief deputy of the Brown County Sheriff’s Office, authored a report stating then-Sheriff Bobby Grubbs were approached by three independent complainants who voiced allegations centered on the use of a county fund known as the Brown County Donation Fund.