The newly appointed El Paso district attorney has three main priorities as he prepares to take office on Thursday.
Getting them done is the tough part, but Bill Hicks, the El Paso lawyer who was appointed to the position on Wednesday by Gov. Greg Abbott, said he has done his research in anticipation of this task and is ready.
“I’ve got eight items on my list of priorities,” Hicks said in an interview with El Paso Matters Wednesday evening. “But I will start with three and make them the most urgent.
“Number one is getting the Patrick Crusius case back on track. I can’t say how we are going to do it because of the gag order. But there are a lot of things that need to be done and we will start there. This has to get back on track.”
Crusius is charged with 23 counts of capital murder in connection with the Walmart shooting on Aug. 3, 2019. The case began to unravel in the summer when the former district attorney, Yvonne Rosales, was chastised by state District Judge Sam Medrano Jr. for “grandstanding” about taking the case to trial in the summer of 2023.
Rosales and her associates then allegedly used the family of a Juárez man killed at the Walmart to discredit Medrano. When the family began asking questions, Rosales’ personal lawyer allegedly began threatening them and trying to keep them from testifying about the efforts to discredit Medrano, according to court records and testimony.
“For the sake of this community, we need to get this back on track,” Hicks said.
The second priority, Hicks said, is to start working on the backlog of cases, some of which have been dismissed for lack of prosecution under the previous administration.
“It is astounding to me that there are hundreds of victims of crime still waiting to see if their case will move forward,” he said. “And some of these victims have been waiting for months.
“This is just as important to me as anything else.”
Hicks also said it is unfair to have those accused of crimes on hold, in jail or on bond restrictions.
The third priority involves staffing. When Hicks worked in the DA’s office more than two decades ago, he said they had 90 prosecutors. Currently, according to his research, the office only has 50 prosecutors.
“The DA’s office is woefully undermanned,” he said. “I need to look at the budget, talk to the Commissioners Court and see what staffing is allocated. I don’t know where the budget stands, but we need to staff it properly to increase morale.”
Currently, he said, one prosecutor is serving simultaneously as a misdemeanor trial chief, a felony trial chief and also covering dockets as a trial attorney.
“That is too much work for anyone and she is very underpaid at the same time,” Hicks said.
He said he believes he can recruit former prosecutors, including some who were forced out or fired by Rosales.
“I won’t name names, but I talked to several former prosecutors in anticipation of this appointment. I had commitments from numerous former senior trial attorneys who told me they would come back,” Hicks said, adding that making sure they are properly paid needs to be addressed.
Hicks said he will not officially be sworn in until next week because he is still representing some clients who are being prosecuted by the District Attorney’s Office. He will file motions to be dismissed from all of those cases as the defense attorney. Once he files the motions, the presiding judges must sign the order releasing him.
“We will bring integrity back to the office,” he said.