District Attorney Yvonne Rosales is to be impeached for incompetence and misconduct, according to a petition filed Wednesday with the El Paso County Secretariat.
The case was assigned to the 346th District Court, presided over by District Judge Patricia Baca.
The petition triggers a rarely used mechanism to impeach an elected official in Texas, a process that could take months to resolve. The petition was filed by defense attorney Omar Carmona, who was representing a capital murder defendant whose charges were dismissed in 2021 after a judge ruled that prosecutors had done so involved in the pursuit of vengeance.
Carmona is demanding that Rosales be temporarily impeached while the courts consider his petition.
The attempt to oust Rosales, a Democrat who was elected in 2020, comes after months of turmoil in her office, including the dismissal of hundreds of cases for untimely filing of charges and controversy over how to handle the August 3, 2019, mass murder in the Cielo Vista Walmart.
“Since August 3, 2019, our community has come a long way. We’ve healed together, we’ve grieved together, and we’ve cried together…but we still don’t have that final closure,” Carmona said. “So it’s time for a change, and it’s a change we can’t wait for. We cannot wait for the next election cycle. It has to be done immediately.”
Rosales said the troubles weren’t her fault but stemmed from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and alleged mistakes by her predecessor, longtime District Attorney Jaime Esparza. The Covid-19 pandemic has created backlogs across the court system statewide, with larger jurisdictions such as Harris County recording a backlog of 94,000 pending cases.
The petition alleges that Rosales should be removed due to a series of actions since he took office. Many of the issues raised in the petition were first reported by El Paso Matters.
- An attempt by Rosales’ office to seek the death penalty against Carmona’s clients in 2021 to avoid having capital murder charges dismissed. That was the case where the judge dismissed the charges after ruling that the prosecutors acted vindictively.
- District Judge Sam Medrano issued a reprimand and subsequent gag order because he thought Rosales was “generous” in making public comments about the Walmart shootings, while he has not filed any complaints in the case since taking office.
- The dropping of hundreds of cases due to prosecutorial inaction.
Unlike many states, Texas does not allow voters to recall elected officials, except in self-governing cities that include such a provision in their bylaws.
The only way to remove elected county officials, including prosecutors, is through a court hearing.
The basics of the process are outlined in the Texas Constitution. State Law allows individuals to petition a county court to remove an elected county officer for incompetence, misconduct, or alcohol intoxication.
The petition cannot be processed unless a district judge issues a subpoena order.
If a subpoena is approved, the judge has the power, but is not obligated, to temporarily suspend the officer and appoint a temporary replacement.
The final decision on impeachment would be left to a jury. The prosecution would represent the state in a removal proceeding.
The law, passed in 1987, has been applied sparingly.
2018, a jury away the Tyler County District Attorney, who was charged with not showing up for work and failing to perform her duties, which critics said had contributed to the backlog of criminal cases.
a judge earlier this year rejected an application for the removal of Midland County District Attorney Laura Nodolf. This petition was brought by a man who was acquitted of murdering a police officer.
In 2013 a Travis County Judge rejected a request for removal against District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg, who was convicted of drunk driving.