At the center of the ongoing controversy at the El Paso District Attorney’s office is a gag order issued by Sam Medrano, the judge in the Walmart case. Medrano’s order prohibits attorneys and witnesses from discussing the Walmart case with anyone outside of the courtroom. Because the Hoffmann family has allegedly violated the judge’s gag order, Medrano appointed attorney Justin Underwood to represent the Hoffmann’s in court and help determine who may have violated the judge’s gag order. On October 6, 2022. Underwood filed a report with the court, alleging that the district attorney, Yvonne Rosales and/or her staff were involved in creating an email that is central to the question of whether the judge’s gag order was violated by a mysterious email.

Rosales has alleged a conspiracy to oust her from office. However, she and her office have been unresponsive to requests from the news media for comment and documents. Rosales has, instead, responded by filing court documents.

There are two court cases pending in court tied to the controversy surrounding Yvonne Rosales. The first is a petition filed by local defense attorney Omar Carmona asking the court to remove Rosales from office. Carmona alleges “incompetency,” citing evidence he submits as proof that Rosales should be removed from office. However, at least one of the factual elements that Carmona makes in his petition is factually incorrect. Carmona alleges that the Texas Ethics Commission found that Rosales “potentially violated” Texas law. This is factually incorrect because the ethics commission has not made such a determination. In response to the Carmona petition, Rosales’ attorney, Luis Yañez filed a response on October 6.

In the response, Yañez argues that Carmona failed to cite “specific facts” demonstrating his allegations against Rosales. In addition to invalidating Carmona’s petition, Yañez is also asking the court to require Carmona to post a $160,000 bond in the case.

The second court case in the Rosales controversy is the Walmart case, specifically whether Medrano’s gag order was violated by the Hoffmann family, or as alleged by the Underwood report, by the district attorney or her office. Central to this issue whether the gag order is valid.

There are questions over whether the Hoffmann’s can be prohibited from discussing the case of the murder of their loved one, when, at best, the Hoffmann’s can only be called as impact witnesses if the Patrick Crusius is not convicted of capital murder with the death penalty applied.

On October 10, 2022, Yvonne Rosales filed a petition with the 8th Court of Appeals asking the appeals court to determine whether Sam Medrano’s gag order violates the constitution’s right to free speech.

Rosales’ appeals court filing argues that Medrano’s gag order was filed “ten minutes before the start” of a scheduled court hearing “without any discussion or actions that show an imminent or severe harm.” Rosales argues that Medrano’s gag order had not “given” the state an opportunity to “present evidence or argument,” before Rosales “became aware” of the order only ten minutes before it was applied.

Rosales points out in her argument that the gag order violates the right to free speech under the Texas and United States Constitutions. Rosales adds that the federal court, which also had a pending case against Crusius does not have a similar gag order in place.

It should be noted that Medrano’s gag order was imposed three-years after the Walmart case had been covered by local and the national media.

The 8th Court of Appeals recently ruled on a similar case involving a gag order in El Paso in August. Judge Alyssa Perez issued a gag order in a murder case on November 30, 2021. The defendant in the case, Clevy Muchette Nelson asked the appeals court to remove the judge’s gag order. Nelson argued that the gag order “which was issued more than a year after the case was originally indicted, is unconstitutional prior restraint on speech that violates Articles I, Section 8 of the Texas Constitution,” and the First Amendment.

On April 29, 2022, the Court of Appeals agreed with Nelson and ordered the judge in the Nelson case “to vacate the gag order.”

It is unclear when the Court of Appeals will rule on the Rosales emergency appeal, however should it find that Medrano’s gag order is unconstitutional then the underlining controversy against Rosales in the Walmart case becomes moot, leaving Carmona’s factually incorrect filing as the only court issue faced by Rosales.

Martin Paredes

Reporting on public corruption, border politics, immigration and public policy in El Paso since 2000.