Neither District Attorney Yvonne Rosales nor Assistant District Attorney Curtis Cox were in court Thursday for a hearing on the 2019 Walmart mass shooting case, prompting an El Paso judge to order that they be present at the next hearing set for the end of the month. 

This comes as defense attorneys for the gunman accused of killing 23 people said the district attorney has evaded subpoenas for an upcoming Nov. 30 hearing to determine if there was a violation of a July gag order. 

“We cannot understand how a duly-elected public official avoids the office,” attorney Joe Spencer said regarding the attempts to serve Rosales at the El Paso County Courthouse, her home and other locations.  

During a status hearing on Thursday morning, 409th District Judge Sam Medrano Jr., ordered Assistant District Attorney Kyle Vance to inform Rosales and Cox of the Nov. 30 hearing to determine “who, if anyone, violated the court order” barring witnesses, attorneys or law enforcement from speaking publicly about the mass murder trial. 

Medrano ordered Vance to appear at the next hearing if neither Rosales nor Cox show. 

During Thursday’s hearing, Medrano directed members of the district attorney’s staff to contact Cox, Assistant District Attorney Salah George Al-Hanna, and Rosales to see if they would appear. A staff member said only Cox responded, and said he was in “medical quarantine” and could not attend Thursday’s hearing. Staff said they did not know if Rosales was in her office, saying they could not reach her. 

Much of the recent developments on the case started after a July 1 hearing when the judge issued a gag order, after he admonished Rosales for “grandstanding” her position on the case.  

On Aug. 4, an email purported to be from the family of Alexander Gerhard Hoffmann — a Ciudad Juárez man killed in the Walmart attack — criticized the judge and a former prosecutor on the case. Other family members questioned the email’s validity in an interview with KTSM. Medrano appointed attorney Justin Underwood to represent the Hoffmann family. 

These events were at the center of the district attorney’s effort to recuse Medrano from the case, as the district attorney alleged the judge was displaying “personal animus” against Rosales, further arguing in a letter to the U.S. district judge overseeing the federal case that Medrano was using Underwood to retaliate against her. 

A Bexar County administrative judge ruled the District Attorney’s Office “did not meet the high threshold” to be recused from a case, and ruled to keep Medrano on the Walmart case

In an Oct. 6 report to the court, Underwood alleged the Hoffmann family did not author the emails. They instead “originated with someone in the Office of the District Attorney, to include District Attorney Yvonne Rosales, Roger Rodriguez, ADA Curtis Cox and potentially other upper management staff of the DA’s Office to advance their own agenda.”

Rodriguez, a Vinton municipal judge, was described by a former prosecutor at the recusal hearing as a “legal advisor for Rosales.” He has represented Rosales or the office on at least two legal matters, including the ultimately withdrawn Texas Ethics Code violation. Rodriguez is not employed by the District Attorney’s Office. 

Spencer asked Medrano to consider ordering Rodriguez to appear at the Nov. 30 hearing. Medrano said he would consider it, but did not make a ruling from the bench. 

Turnover has been high among prosecutors on the deadliest mass shooting case currently in the courts. In early November, Cox resigned, joining the list of prosecutors who have left the case which included John Briggs, Monica Barron Auger, Adaeze Ada Nwaneri and Habon Mohamed. 

Medrano asked Vance if “any work has been done on the case” since the July 1 hearing. Vance responded that he believed so, but that he had been “a periphery” to the case and “couldn’t answer either way.” 

Medrano said he wants to see Rosales in the courtroom on Nov. 30. 

“Ms. Rosales is the district attorney, each and every one of the cases in each one of the courtrooms is hers,” Medrano said.

Danielle Prokop is a climate change and environment reporter with El Paso Matters. She’s covered climate, local government and community at the Scottsbluff Star-Herald in Nebraska and the Santa Fe New...