The El Paso County District Attorney’s Office pushed back Wednesday against a flurry of subpoenas filed by a defense attorney who wants District Attorney Yvonne Rosales, and others, to testify during a Walmart shooting status hearing next week.
Defense attorney Justin Underwood on Tuesday filed several subpoenas in anticipation of the Sept. 13 hearing to address a possible violation of a gag order issued in July by 409th District Court Judge Sam Medrano Jr. Subpoenas also were issued to former Assistant District Attorney John Briggs and El Paso lawyer Roger Rodriguez.
Medrano originally set a status hearing for Aug. 17 to talk with the district attorney’s office about the gag order. The district attorney asked for a continuance, according to court records, because the DA could not locate the family of Alexander Gerhard Hoffman Roth, who was killed in the Walmart shooting.
On Aug. 4, about 30 journalists received an email purportedly signed by Hoffman’s son, Alexander Hoffman Valdez, saying Amanda Enriquez, a former assistant district attorney, was using the Walmart case as a political ploy. The email came from an account linked to Hoffman’s widow Rosa Maria Valdez. Other Hoffman family members questioned the email’s authenticity in a KTSM interview.
As part of the Aug. 17 hearing continuance, Medrano appointed Underwood to represent the Hoffman family, according to court documents. Hoffmann, 66, was one of 23 people killed in the Cielo Vista Walmart shooting.
On Wednesday, the District Attorney’s Office asked Medrano to quash all of the subpoenas.
Assistant District Attorney Curtis Cox argued that Underwood cannot compel anyone to speak at a Sept. 13 hearing because he has no standing in the criminal case against the alleged shooter Patrick Crusius, and no longer represents the Hoffman family.
Cox said Underwood is using the power of subpoena not to represent the Hoffmann family, but to “conduct an extrajudicial investigation.” The motion does not say what the extrajudicial investigation is about.
Along with his motion, Cox submitted an Aug. 23 email from a lawyer stating that he represents the Hoffmans in the gag-order matter. The email was written by Jose Morales, who says he was retained by the family, who live in Mexico. Morales’ email does not provide credentials or any information indicating he can practice law in the United States.
An email requesting comment and additional information from Morales was unanswered.
Due to the standing gag order for attorneys, law enforcement and witnesses who have given testimony in the Aug. 3 case, officials have no additional comment, said Paul Ferris, the spokesperson for the DA’s office.
Underwood declined to comment Tuesday, and did not answer if he still represented the Hoffman family.
In his subpoenas Tuesday, Underwood directed Rosales, Rodriguez and Briggs to testify at the Sept. 13 hearing, according to documents filed with the District Clerk’s Office.
Rosales, a Democrat elected in 2020, has faced a storm of criticism in recent weeks, including a petition from an El Paso attorney to remove her from office due to “misconduct” and “incompetence.” Her office failed to move cases along, resulting in hundreds of case dismissals, and was admonished for inaction in the Aug. 3 mass shooting case.
Rosales maintains the backlog is inherited from her predecessor, former District Attorney Jaime Esparza, and worsened during the coronavirus pandemic. As for the dismissed cases, Rosales said her office is working to refile charges.
Rodriguez is a municipal court judge in Vinton, and a longtime attorney in El Paso. He represented the District Attorney’s Office, according to the El Paso Times, in a 2021 Texas Ethics Commission draft opinion determining if Rosales misused more than $2,000 in state funds last year. The commission allowed the DA’s office to withdraw the request for an opinion in December 2021.
Rosales fired Briggs, a senior trial attorney with the DA’s office, in late August. Prior to his removal, Briggs was assigned to the Aug. 3 case.
Correction: A previous version of this article misstated Brigg’s experience compared with other attorneys in the DA’s office regarding capital murder cases
Disclosure: In a Sept. 3 court filing responding to a petition to remove District Attorney Yvonne Rosales from office, the district attorney alleged that El Paso Matters and its CEO, Robert Moore, are part of a “political conspiracy” to oust her. Moore said the filing is an attempt by Rosales “to use the courts to intimidate and suppress a news organization whose coverage she doesn’t like.”