Brown Co. residents testify in support of bill to end pre-trial donations
AUSTIN, Texas - Brown County Commissioner Gary Worley testified before a house committee to support a bill which would end a controversial court donation program Tuesday at the Texas State Capitol.
He was there supporting House Bill 2273, which repeals a statute allowing Brown County Attorney Shane Britton to collect donations from criminal defendants in exchange for leniency. This practice has made Britton's office the subject of a current criminal investigation the U.S. Attorney's Office in Lubbock.
"It's all about the perception," Worley told KTXS after he testified. "If you follow the statue, you can do everything right and it will still look bad. That's why it needs to be repealed."
State Rep. Mike Lang authored H.B. 2273 and was the first to testify Tuesday afternoon in front of the House Jurisprudence and Civil Committee. Lang laid out why H.B. 2273 is necessary.
"This bill would prohibit the county attorney from accepting gifts and grants in return for dismissing cases," Lang told committee members.
In 2007, legislation was passed allowing the Brown County Attorney, and five other counties, to take donations and grants. Britton received approval from commissioners that same year to create the Brown County Attorney Donation Fund.
Defendants in misdemeanor cases paid a donation into Britton's fund to have their charge removed or lessened.
Lang was optimistic after Tuesday's hearing.
"If it comes out of committee and gets voted on the floor, then we'll vote it on the floor and it will be sent to the Senate," Lang told KTXS.
He doesn't expect to hear whether it made it out of the Jurisprudence and Civil Committee until next week.
Brownwood resident Sandra McSwain also testified on Tuesday, criticizing Britton's pre-trial diversion donation program.
"Little action has been taken with the close knit courthouse to resolve the abuses of this donation program," she said. "It appears the district attorney has done little to investigate the abuses."
Britton abandoned that program in 2015, shortly after the Brown County Sheriff's Office launched its investigation into his office.
Commissioner Worley said the 2007 legislation should never have been passed.
Britton attended the hearing. He declined to speak on camera, but told KTXS he supports Lang's bill.
After the hearing finished, KTXS asked Worley if he's concerned about the federal investigation into Britton's office.
"I don't know anything," Lang said. "I haven't been given a copy of the investigation... so actually I don't have an opinion on it."