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Facing possible removal for alleged incompetence, El Paso District Attorney Yvonne Rosales resigns

Gaby Velasquez
USA TODAY NETWORK via Reuters Connectv
El Paso District Attorney Yvonne Rosales, seen passing out flyers at the El Paso National Night Out 2022, has faced a series of scandals since she took office in 2021.

The first-term DA was under fire for the office’s mishandling of criminal cases and for potentially jeopardizing the prosecution of the man charged in the 2019 Walmart massacre.

Facing possible removal from office over accusations of incompetence and misconduct, El Paso District Attorney Yvonne Rosales is stepping down.

The rookie prosecutor on Monday  submitted her resignation effective Dec. 14, the day before a judge was expected to decide if she should be suspended pending a trial that could oust her from office before her term ends in 2024. During her nearly two years in office,  Rosales has been engulfed in a series of scandals over her handling of the border county’s prosecutions.

Rosales became district attorney of El Paso, Culberson and Hudspeth counties in 2021 after her predecessor had held the post for nearly three decades. After spending most of her legal career practicing family law, her electoral win placed her in charge of prosecuting the alleged gunman in El Paso’s 2019 Walmart massacre, one of the most high-profile death penalty cases in recent Texas history.

Quickly, local judges and attorneys began questioning whether Rosales could handle the case, or even her most basic responsibilities as the region’s top prosecutor.

The district attorney this year has seen judges throw out nearly a thousand criminal cases because her office routinely missed legal deadlines to file charges. Last winter, a murder defendant was freed from jail because a judge found one of Rosales’ top prosecutors vindictively sought a death penalty after being caught unprepared for trial.

And last month,  her office was implicated in possibly criminal allegations of impersonating and intimidating relatives of the Walmart shooting victims, getting the FBI involved. State District Judge Sam Medrano is expected to weigh the accusations in a court hearing Wednesday in the case against the mass shooting suspect.

Rosales’ private attorneys have denied the allegations of her involvement in any wrongdoing in the Walmart case, and she has long said the mounting criticisms of her are politically motivated.

The district attorney’s resignation stems from a complaint filed by a defense attorney who represented the murder defendant who was freed because of prosecutorial vindictiveness, triggering a rarely used court process that can remove local elected officials from office for incompetence or misconduct before their terms expire. Any Texas resident can file such a petition, but for a removal proceeding to move forward, a state district judge has to accept the case and the local county attorney has to agree to prosecute it.

Attorney Omar Carmona based his petition largely on low numbers of criminal case filings by Rosales’ office, the swath of dismissals, the vindictiveness ruling and what he called a “mishandling” of the Walmart mass murder case — before the newest allegations of witness tampering went public.

Judge Tryon D. Lewis, from Odessa, agreed to hear the case, and El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal  announced this month she would prosecute Rosales and seek to remove her from office. The trial was set for March.

Since then, several of Rosales’ private attorneys have told the court they are no longer representing her because of an unresolvable conflict, and the shooting suspect’s attorneys have accused her and one of her top assistants, who has since resigned, of dodging court subpoenas.

Rosales’ resignation came from a courtroom agreement with Bernal, according to  KTSM-TV. Her decision means Gov.  Greg Abb o tt, a Republican, will choose the next district attorney for the Democratic region until the term expires in 2024.

From Texas Tribune

Disclosure: Walmart Stores Inc. has been a financial supporter of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete  list of them here.