Shelby County district attorney pleads the fifth

Published: Aug. 3, 2010 at 1:17 PM CDT|Updated: Aug. 4, 2010 at 6:26 PM CDT
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BEAUMONT, TX (News Release) - By Donna McCollum - bio | email

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - Shelby County district attorney Lynda K. Russell finally gave a deposition Tuesday in a pending civil lawsuit. That deposition, given at the Nacogdoches County Courthouse, will now go before a federal judge.

Russell is accused in a civil lawsuit of developing an illegal search and seizure practice in Tenaha.

Her attorneys exhausted all legal means to excuse her from giving a deposition.

Russell shielded herself by her defense attorney, Tom Henson, as she walked down the narrow hall to the questioning room. In the deposition room she stood behind his advice to take the fifth. Plaintiff attorneys read a lot into her silence.

"If a person didn't do anything wrong, you expect them to say, 'No, I didn't do anything wrong', not invoke their right for the fifth amendment," said attorney David Guillory.

"The district attorney of Shelby County would not answer any of hundreds of questions about their interdiction program over those years. She would not answer any questions and reason she wouldn't answer the questions, she said, it would indicate she is guilty of a crime and that's an incredibly dramatic thing for a district attorney to be saying, said attorney Tim Garrigan.

The men are representing several clients who are black and were driving vehicles without of state plates when they were stopped in Tenaha.

The attorneys wanted Russell to talk about something they call "highway piracy".

"It's going to be some very awkward questions concerning what they did , what the police plan was about the interdiction program that they say they were enforcing and what they did with the people's money," explained Guillory before the proceedings.

According to court documents, over a hundred motorists traveling through Tenaha were stopped between 2006 and 2008. They were stopped and allegedly told to give up their property, mostly cash, or go to jail.

The forfeiture fund grew to hundreds of thousands of dollars. Checks from the fund were written to florists, non profit agencies and to Russell and other authorities.

Former Nacogdoches County district attorney Stephanie Stephens was asked to be co-council on the case. She asked the questions in deposition.

"I've got some knowledge how the criminal system works and the asset forfeiture system works," explained Stephens.

It came as no surprise that Russell would sit at this table and show an unwillingness to answer the questions, but it certainly didn't diminish the frustration it caused for attorneys.

"She took the fifth hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of times and at times it seemed sad. At times it seemed mind numbing", expressed Garrigan.

By the mid morning break the attorneys counted that Russell had pleaded the fifth more than 300 times.

"After a while, it takes the tension out of the air and reduces everyone almost to sleep," commented Guillory.

After the proceedings, Russell and her attorney offered nothing more. "We're not able to discuss this case as it's in litigation, thank you anyway," said Tom Henson, Russell's attorney.

"I'm not supposed to say anything. I apologize," said Russell as she entered an elevator.

Russell and her former investigator, Danny Green were the only defendants who held out on providing a deposition. Tenaha city marshal Barry Washington has testified. So has Tenaha mayor George Bowers. Both men were present at Russell's proceeding. Shelby County constable Randy Whatley has also been deposed.

Tomorrow, Green will attend a deposition. His attorney wouldn't reveal if his client will be taking the fifth. Plaintiff attorneys anticipate he will.

They say the lack of answers won't hurt their efforts to file a class action lawsuit. The filing deadline is August 16th.

However, the silence could help Russell if criminal charges are filed.

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