Incoming El Paso DA ousts dozens of lawyers and staff, including Walmart shooting prosecutors
District Attorney-elect Yvonne Rosales has told dozens of attorneys and staff that they will be out of a job when she takes office Jan. 1. The attorneys handling the prosecution of the Walmart mass shooting suspect were either fired or chose not to reapply for their jobs.
James Montoya, an assistant district attorney who lost the runoff election to Rosales in July, posted a video on Facebook Wednesday morning that said Rosales requested that all 200 employees of the District Attorney’s Office reapply for their jobs. About 50 of them were told they would not continue in their jobs after Jan. 1, Montoya said.
“Before Thanksgiving the District Attorney-elect Ms. Rosales informed nearly 30 assistant DAs that they are going to be terminated effective Jan. 1 at the start of her term,” Montoya said in the video. He said he and several other attorneys did not reapply for their positions.
The 34th Judicial District Attorney’s office has about 90 attorneys who prosecute crimes in El Paso, Hudspeth and Culberson counties.
Rosales hasn’t responded to requests for comment.
Jaime Esparza, the district attorney since 1993, did not seek re-election. He declined to comment on the staffing changes.
Montoya said many of the prosecutors losing their jobs were in special prosecution units or in felony trial sections handling the most serious criminal cases. He said nearly two dozen staff members, receptionists, secretaries, investigators and victim advocates were also informed that they would be terminated.
Montoya said he posted the video because he thinks the turnover, which included the attorneys working on the case against the Walmart shooter, will have profound consequences for the community and in hundreds of pending cases.
“None of the attorneys currently working on the Walmart case are coming back to the office,” Montoya said.
The attorneys would have played a key role in litigating charges against the Walmart shooter, who is accused of killing 23 people and wounding 23 others on Aug. 3, 2019. The accused gunman faces both federal and state charges that could carry the death penalty.
Rosales said during the campaign that she favored the federal government handling the mass shooting prosecution. Montoya and Esparza said they favored local prosecutors trying the case first.
Montoya said it’s hard to discern what the reason is for the number of terminations. “I’m not sure whether it’s political in nature,” Montoya said.
Jennifer Laurin, a professor at the University of Texas law school in Austin, said turnover is not uncommon following the election of a new district attorney.
“It tends to be that they are going to want people that they are most comfortable working with in the sort of senior advisory roles or heading units, that kind of thing,” Laurin said.
Laurin said the changes may be made to affect the culture of the organization, but there also is turnover by people in the office who do not want to work under the leadership of the person coming into office.
“In those circumstances you tend to see people leave,” Laurin said.
In Hidalgo County in South Texas, Ricardo Rodriguez Jr. ousted longtime District Attorney Rene Guerra in 2014. Rodriguez fired several employees after taking office, prompting a lawsuit by seven former employees who said they were victims of political retaliation.
The case alleged that Rodriguez fired five of the employees because they campaigned Guerra, according to media reports. The lawsuit was settled in September, but terms weren’t disclosed.