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Opinion sought, Brown County Attorney practice scrutinized

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BROWN COUNTY, Texas - Newly appointed Brown County Auditor Jennifer Robison has submitted a letter to Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, asking for an opinion on a "donation program" where suspects in misdemeanor cases can pay the county attorney a fee for a lenient sentence.

In Tuesday's letter to Paxton, Robison said "requiring criminal defendants to pay required monies 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."

"I don't think a donation is…something that is ordered, or required by another with power of person in exchange for dismissal, or more lenient treatment of one's criminal case," Robison said. "Yet, I am not a lawyer."

Alleged abuse in Brown County Attorney Shane Britton's program initially came under review under previous Brown County Auditor Nina Cox.

Repeated efforts to get in touch with Britton have been unsuccessful.

Cox was forced to resign last month due to her job performance. District Judge Stephen Ellis appointed Robsion as county auditor on June 1.

Robison stated that Britton's office started using "pretrial diversion agreements" with defendants as far back as 2003.

In 2007, the Texas Legislature passed a law opening the door for Britton to deposit fees collected from the diversion agreements directly to his office's General Fund, as opposed to the Brown County fund, as part of "agreements with misdemeanor criminal defendants."

Robison said Britton asked Brown County commissioners to use money from a "hot check fund" in order to give himself a $15,000 raise. He then asked commissioners for money "be transferred from the county attorney donation fund to the hot check fund in order for staff salaries to be paid out of the hot check fund," according to Robison's letter.

The letter also claims that in April of 2015 Justice of the Peace Jim Cavanaugh reported Britton to the State Bar of Texas for disciplinary action.

The Brown County Attorney's Office has been undergoing an audit for the last year by a Houston-based CPA firm.

Her letter to Paxton's office is currently pending for an opinion.

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