EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The Texas Attorney General’s Office announced that it is quickly exploring to take legal action after El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego ordered a two-week shutdown of non-essential services.
In a tweet, Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton wrote, “El Paso County Judge Samaniego has no authority to shut down businesses in El Paso County. This is a direct violation of @GovAbbott’s executive order. My office is quickly exploring all legal actions.”
KTSM 9 News went through the county judge’s order. In it, he says the “strictest” order — whether it be his or the governor’s — must be the one that is followed. It appears to be one of the legal arguments in play. Samaniego said multiple times during Thursday’s press conference that he would not be issuing the order if he did not feel as though he had the legality to do so.
Samaniego also wrote in his order, “Pursuant to Texas government code … the county judge serves as the emergency management director for the county of El Paso. Texas government code, chapter 418 authorizes the emergency management director to issue orders, which are necessary for the protection of life and property in the county.”
El Paso Mayor Dee Margo said Judge Samaniego did not consult him about the shutdown order and refused to return his call.
“I am seeking clarification from the Attorney General on the new County order, which does not supersede the Governor’s orders,” Mayor Margo said.
Mayor Margo sent a letter to the Attorney General, which he then posted on his official Twitter account.
Paxton’s office responded on Thursday night with a letter that called Samaniego’s unlawful.
Lesley French, general counsel to the AG’s office, wrote that Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s most recent order, Executive Order GA-32, regarding the reopening of Texas “explicitly preempts all contradictory local orders. Insofar as the local Order conflicts with GA-32 by restricting essential or reopened services, it is invalid and unenforceable.”
The letter continues: “Nothing in GA-32 allows local governments to shut down businesses as the county her attempts to do. Because the county’s restriction conflicts with the Governor’s order and exceeds its lawful; authority, it is invalid.”
French concluded the letter by writing that the office has advised Samaniego to rescind or revise his order or face likely further legal action. It is not clear what legal action the office would enforce against Samaniego or the County of El Paso.
You can read the letter in full here:
Margo was vocal about not wanting a shut down at a city council meeting on Tuesday, saying at the time that he could not supersede the governor’s orders.
Judge Samaniego has pushed for stricter measures for much of the last week; during his virtual news conference on Thursday, he said he felt that the stay-at-home order was his only option, despite the city’s opposition.
“We’re just taking different approaches, and my approach is one that I’ve wanted to step it up based on the fact that the county hospital is under my purview,” Samaniego said. “That’s very important and I have to look at things from a different perspective than the city has to. So, there’s no wedge between us, it’s just different focus of what we need to do to be successful.”
Samaniego also said that he met with Margo, as well as officials from Las Cruces and Juarez earlier this week.
Some El Paso businesses have already said they would defy the order.