The El Paso County Commissioners Court voted against paying for District Attorney Yvonne Rosales’ legal defense in the petition to remove her from office, saying they would reconsider payment if the civil lawsuit against her fails.
Speaking on Monday to the Commissioners Court by video, Rosales argued that the county should pay for her legal defense as a form of “protection of the electoral process and the voice of the voters” who had chosen her as DA, and to maintain “continuity and stability for the protection of employees within the (DA’s) office,” among other reasons.
Depending on whether the suit against her went forward, Rosales estimated that her legal defense costs could run between nothing and $250,000.
But because the district attorney is considered an employee of the state, El Paso County is not legally obligated to pay for her defense. Commissioners could choose whether to cover none, some or all of her legal fees, or to commit to reimbursing her if she won the suit.
The question on what to do, County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal told commissioners, hinged on whether funding Rosales’ legal defense would serve a public purpose. The El Paso County Attorney’s office provides legal advice to the El Paso County Commissioners Court; it is also required under Texas law to decide whether it will prosecute the removal case against Rosales.
County Commissioner David Stout put forward the motion to deny Rosales public funding and later agreed to an amendment saying that if Rosales is not removed from office, commissioners could reconsider the matter. Commissioners Carlos Leon and Carl Robinson, along with County Judge Ricardo Samaniego, joined him. Commissioner Iliana Holguin voted against the motion.
Rosales’ request came hours after she was served with a legal citation that triggered the next step of the removal process – a 10-day period for Rosales to answer the citation and for the County Attorney’s Office to decide whether to dismiss the petition, move forward with it, or request more time to decide. Bernal filed a motion Monday afternoon asking to push her deadline back to Nov. 1.
El Paso defense attorney Omar Carmona filed a petition to remove Rosales from public office on Aug. 24. Rosales immediately filed a motion to throw out the petition. On Sept. 14, Judge Tryon D. Lewis of Odessa ruled that the removal petition could continue.
At the start of Monday’s meeting, Rosales asked to move the discussion into executive session, which would prevent public access to the deliberations. Doing this would violate the Texas Open Meetings Act, said Assistant County Attorney Erica Rosales Nigaglioni, who advises the Commissioners Court on legal matters.
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.”