EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The 34th District Court heard oral arguments on Wednesday regarding a two-week shutdown order issued by El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego.
The hearing was held virtually and some El Paso businesses were watching with anticipation and looking for guidance on whether the order is valid. However, a decision was not made on Wednesday.
“Yes, stay open, no, shut down and it was just left up in the air as well. Again it’s the same situation we were in last week where you don’t know what to do or who to listen to or how to move forward,” said Patricia Telles, owner of Rosa’s Cantina in West El Paso.
Telles watched the virtual hearing as 34th District Judge William Moody said he would have an answer by Friday. Telles said she had hoped there would be a decision made sooner.
“It’s really difficult and frustrating because these businesses that are affected, it’s our livelihood, so when you’re told one thing and you’re trying to follow the rules and then something else comes out, it’s difficult,” said Telles.
During the hearing, the State and County made their case as to why the shutdown should or should not remain in place. However, in the meantime, local businesses are in limbo.
“You know, again, everything is left up in the air and I agree, force them to go back together and come up with a solution and it has to be unified,” said Telles.
Todd Dickerson with the Office of the Attorney General said Samaniego did not have the authority to supersede Gov. Greg Abbott by issuing the order.
“We are here because Judge Samaniego did not have the authority to supersede Governor Abbott’s emergency orders in such a matter it was an invalid and ultra vires act and it must be immediately enjoined today,” said Dickerson.
Attorney Mark Osborn, who represents El Paso small businesses, requested an injunction to the order.
“Force our elected officials to do their job, not just whatever each one wants to do. Make them work together for a common good, make the county judge go back to the governor, make the county judge and the governor keep talking, make them keep working together until they agree on a unified plan,” said Osborn.
Jed Untereker, Assistant County Attorney, said Samaniego made a hard decision to protect the community and said the court should deny any temporary injection to the order. Untereker argued that the County Judge did have the authority to issue the order due to the current public health crisis in El Paso.
“Our community is in a public health crisis, people are dying, infection rates are through the roof and hospitals are at capacity,” said Untereker. “The Texas Disasters Act of 1975 expressly gives power to a county judge to take action in an emergency or disaster situation just like this, and that is what our County Judge Ricardo Samaniego did.”
William Moody, 34th District Judge, asked both parties to talk to one another, encouraging them to try and find a middle ground with one another before he makes a decision.
“Go back and talk to each of your clients. Encourage them to try and talk to each other before I am going to rule. If you can find some middle ground at a time when middle ground may not be as easy to find,” Moody said. “I truly encourage both parties and I do that in many cases, not just this case, to try and find something that will work for all of El Pasoans, recognizing right now that we are in a more deep crisis than most anywhere else or anywhere else in the state.”
Moody gave each party until 5 p.m. on Wednesday to supplement their arguments, saying he will have a ruling no later than Friday morning.