EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) – After hours of testimony and evidence, appointed judge denied recusal of Judge Sam Medrano filed by District Attorney Yvonne Rosales’s office.
D.A. Rosales’s office filed for recusal of judge Sam Medrano appointed to handle the State’s case of alleged Walmart shooter Patrick Crusius on September 9.
In the filing, D.A. office’s Division Chief Curtis Cox alleges judge Sam Medrano’s impartiality and bias in the case.
D.A. Rosales took a stand as a witness during Tuesday’s hearing describing the July 1 status hearing when Medrano issued a gag order.
This order came after D.A. Rosales sent a press release saying: “We hope to have our case proceed to trial by summer of 2023.”
Rosales said in Tuesday’s hearing she did not feel Medrano’s questioning in July 1 was fair, impartial or appropriate.
“I have never been treated with such bias and antagonism in my 20 years of work,” Rosales said in her testimony.
She proceeded to explain how she felt that Medrano was directing his questions regarding the Walmart shooting case just towards her, while knowing that the main prosecutor in the case was attorney John Briggs.
Briggs was fired by the D.A.’s office in late August of 2022.
During the July 1 hearing, Medrano revealed that the court has not received any filings regarding the Walmart case from D.A.’s office, therefore challenging Rosales’s statement that she would hope to have the State trial set for summer of 2023.
Rosales said in her testimony for Medrano’s recusal that Briggs was fired based on his performance “or lack thereof.”
One of Crusius’ attorneys, Mark Stevens, asked Rosales if she had any knowledge of Briggs being asked by Mr. Cox to sign an affidavit saying he had given misinformation to the Hoffmann family, which she negated.
KTSM reported on the emails sent on August 4, 5 and 6 that appear to have been sent from Rosa Maria Valdez Garcia’s email, wife of one of the Walmart shooting victims, and signed by Alexander Hoffmann Valdez, son of the victim.
These emails were sent after Medrano issued a gag order, meaning the family was potentially breaking the order which could result with consequences like jail time.
Medrano scheduled a status hearing to talk with the D.A.’s office regarding the gag order and to bring the Hoffmann family to testify on the authenticity of those emails.
D.A.’s office requested a continuance as they were unable to locate Hoffmann’s, saying they were last in contact with them during July 1 hearing.
Judge Medrano then appointed attorney Justin Underwood to represent the Hoffmann family.
The hearing was then set for September 13, but was postponed due to D.A.’s filing of motion to recuse judge Medrano, and has not yet taken place.
Assistant District Attorney John Briggs was fired five days after judge Medrano made the status hearing announcement on August 17 which included the Hoffmann family testimony.
In Tuesday’s hearing for removal of judge Medrano, Stevens inquired Rosales whether she was aware that Briggs told her office he suspected Roger Rodriguez was writing the emails on behalf of the Hoffmann’s.
Rodriguez is a judge in the Municipal Court of the village of Vinton and D.A. Rosales’s legal counselor, not a part of the D.A.’s staff.
According to Briggs’s testimony, after the July 1 hearing, Briggs gathered the Walmart shooting victim’s and survivors who were present to the conference room to address their concerns.
Briggs said that after he was done answering questions, Rodriguez started speaking to the victim’s families and survivors, to which D.A. Rosales did not object or interfere in any way.
In her testimony, Rosales named who was present in the conference room at that time and did not mention Rodriguez.
When asked by Stevens whether she saw Rodriguez speaking to the families of victims and survivors, she said she did not recall.
During her testimony, Rosales said Rodriguez was assisting her office in receiving a grant to fund the trial and that he was appointed by Texas Governor Gregg Abbott to be in a committee dealing with mental health and mass shootings.
She also referred to Rodriguez as outside counsel for some cases, but not the Walmart shooting case in particular.
When asked by Stevens what cases she was referring to, Rosales said it was in a federal case that included the Governor and multiple D.A.s.
Rodriguez was also representing Rosales in November of 2021 when the Texas Ethics Commission was petitioned to review a summary of facts regarding over $2,600 in civil forfeiture expenses made by Rosales by an anonymous requestor who alleged misuse of public funds.
Rosales did not mention this in her testimony.
Briggs continued to say Rosales was present when Rodriguez addressed the room that they are “going to get that judge recused” and that he had recused dozens of judges before.
In continuation of his testimony Briggs said he had a discussion with Mr. Cox on Thursday, August 14 and told him he believes that the alleged Hoffmann emails came from the D.A.’s office and that he believes it was Roger Rodriguez who wrote them.
On Monday, August 22, Briggs was fired from the D.A.’s office.
During his questioning of Briggs, Cox asked if Briggs believed that the case was not moving because of judge Medrano to which Briggs responded he believes it is partially because of judge Medrano who hasn’t put a scheduling order in place and, therefore, the D.A.’s office did not make any filings in the case, because there were no deadlines.
Briggs also reasoned that neither the state or the defense were pushing for a trial and that not all the blame lands on the court.
One of Cox’s arguments for recusal was Medrano’s appointment of attorney Justin Underwood to represent the Hoffmann family, which he explained, was a way of Medrano conducting a personal investigation, not permitted to a judge.
In his testimony, D.A. office’s witness, Robert Scott Ferguson, division chief in the D.A.’s office, said he did not object to Medrano appointing Underwood to represent the Hoffmann’s.
Rosales said, when Briggs was on the Walmart case he was supposed to report to Ferguson on the progress, but according to Briggs’s testimony, his understanding was that he was supposed to answer directly to Rosales.
Rosales also stated she felt antagonized by Medrano during the July 1 hearing because none of the questions were aimed at Briggs. She said her job was more “administrative” and that Briggs would have been a better person to ask those questions.
D.A.’s recusal petition also includes allegations that judge Medrano had prior communication with Crusius’s defense attorney Joe Spencer.
Rosales testified that she believed Spencer was reading a prepared speech during the July 1 hearing, which Briggs denied in his testimony.
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