Class action civil lawsuit gets national attention

By Donna McCollum - bio | email

NACOGDOCHES, TX (KTRE) - A class action civil lawsuit against the Shelby County district attorney has caught the attention of the American Civil Liberties Union. Lynda K. Russell, Shelby County district attorney and other Tenaha officials are being sued for allegedly seizing money illegally from motorists, almost all of whom are black.

In the midst of the class action lawsuit he filed, David Guillory learns of a request made in behalf of Russell.

"Recently she asked the attorney general for an opinion as to whether or not those funds from the forfeiture fund could be used to pay for her private attorney," Guillory explained. "The idea that she would try to use those funds for that purpose was outrageous."

The American Civil Liberties Union is in agreement. It has filed a brief with the Texas AG opposing Russell's request. ACLU takes interest in the case that alleges African American motorists were stopped in Tenaha without cause, coerced into signing over their cash or face felony charges of money laundering.

"We believe this case is very much a pattern in Texas," Dotty Griffith, ACLU spokesperson said as an explanation as why the organization is taking interest in the case.

"It would be completely inappropriate for the district attorney to use assets which are the very subject of litigation charging her with participating in allegedly illegal activity to defend herself against these charges," said Lisa Graybill, Legal Director at the ACLU of Texas in a prepared news release.

Russell is rarely in the district attorney's office and has said previously she won't be commenting on the suit. Evidence indicates Russell has used the forfeiture money to reimburse thousands of dollars to herself and others, plus miscellaneous expenditures like flowers, and charitable donations.

Guillory says the forfeiture fund was used in illegal ways.

"And even after there's some scrutiny on the DA's activity in misusing those funds, she's still at it," said Guillory.

Russell's main concern is funds for an attorney. Guillory is focusing on researching the hundreds of motorists who passed through Tenaha who are now eligible to take part in the class action lawsuit.

The first pre trial interview of witnesses may begin as early as next month. The trial itself will happen sometime next year.

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