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In response to a legal petition seeking to remove El Paso’s district attorney from office, lawyers for DA Yvonne Rosales argued Thursday that it should be up to voters, not jurors, to decide whether to keep Rosales in office. The next election for DA will take place in 2024.
In late August, El Paso criminal defense attorney Omar Carmona filed a legal petition seeking to remove Rosales from office for alleged incompetency and official misconduct. The motion filed by Rosales’ lawyers denied all allegations made in the removal petition, arguing that the petition’s claims represented “the latest salvo in the ongoing war against democracy that is raging in our country.”
It noted that Rosales narrowly won a run-off election against an opponent who was considered the favorite in the race. “The idea of losing gracefully has abandoned our collective conscience,” the motion continued. “Where in our hearts humble acceptance now prevailed, vengeance now resides.”
Carmona took issue with this characterization.
“The people decided in 2020 to trust Ms. Rosales with this job. No one’s disputing that. I’m not saying, ‘oh this was a bad election.’ But El Paso trusted her, and she abused that trust,” he said, pointing to recent allegations about the DA’s treatment of the families of Walmart shooting victims as an example that strengthened his case.
“This legislation was enacted for these specific reasons,” he added.
The legislation Carmona is referring to is a rarely used mechanism in Texas’ government code. While district attorneys in some states can be removed through recall elections, in Texas, the only way to remove public officials from office between election cycles is through a court process called “removal by petition and trial.”
In this process, a removal petition refers to a legal filing, not a collection of voter signatures.
Judge Tryon D. Lewis of Odessa has allowed the petition to move forward, and it is now up to County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal to determine if her office will prosecute the case against Rosales. Bernal has until Nov. 1 to issue a decision. If the County Attorney’s Office moves forward, the civil case could go before a jury to decide.
The County Attorney’s Office has said it will not comment on the case. The District Attorney’s Office ignored requests for an interview or comment on Thursday’s motion.
The motion also asked the visiting judge in the case to order Carmona to “post security” for a minimum of $160,000. The motion asked for a hearing to discuss this request.
Rosales specifically denied several claims in the removal petition, including statistics cited about a drop in case filings during her first year in office, calling them “sensationalist statements.”
Though the removal petition does not provide a source for the statistics, in an interview, Carmona confirmed that they were initially published by El Paso Matters in a May 2022 article.
The statistics were drawn from public information requests made by El Paso Matters to the El Paso County and El Paso District Clerk Offices, which track legal filings, the El Paso Police Department, and city of El Paso budget documents. In the months since the article’s publication, the DA’s office has not sought a correction to the statistics.
But “even if accepted as true,” the motion says, “the district attorney has broad discretion in determining which cases to pursue.”