A state judge on Tuesday will hear a motion to recuse Judge Sam Medrano from the capital murder case against the accused El Paso Walmart mass shooter.
In a motion filed earlier this month, the El Paso District Attorney's office requested Medrano be removed from the case he has presided over for three years, alleging the judge developed a "personal animus" against DA Yvonne Rosales. Defense attorneys for the suspected mass shooter argue in court documents that the prosecutors' complaints don't meet the threshold for recusal.
Judge Sid Harle, presiding judge for the 4th Administrative Judicial Region, is scheduled to hear arguments for and against recusal in a virtual hearing scheduled for 8 a.m. on Tuesday.
The embattled DA is facing numerous controversies as her office prepares to prosecute defendant Patrick Crusius in one of the nation's largest-ever mass shootings to go to trial. The defendant faces one count of capital murder of multiple persons and 22 counts of aggravated assault in Medrano's court, the 409th state district.
The Aug. 3, 2019, mass shooting left 23 people dead and dozens wounded in a hate-fueled attack targeting Hispanics.
Rosales is seeking the death penalty in the case and has asked for a trial in 2023, before a federal trial slated for 2024.
Questions have been raised about Rosales' ability to effectively bring the case to trial. She recently removed the lead attorney on the case, John Briggs, who court documents say was the prosecuting attorney with capital murder experience.
The recusal motion, authored by Assistant District Attorney Curtis Cox, alleges Medrano has "sought to impugn (DA Rosales) in the public's perception." Cox makes a series of claims to the judge's alleged impartiality that begin right after Rosales took office as district attorney for the state's 34th Judicial District in El Paso.
He cites Medrano's gag order on all parties involved in the case; a request by the judge for Rosales to assign a different set of prosecutors to his courtroom; and criticism that she was hiring out-of-town lawyers on the mass shooting case, among other allegations.
In a motion filed last week, defense attorneys said none of the allegations meets the "high threshold" for a judge's recusal in the state of Texas. If Rosales or her prosecutors objected to the judge's statements or orders, defense attorneys say they should have made objections in the courtroom.
"If the State truly believed the arguments it now makes for the first time in its recusal motion are meritorious, it would have objected in Court," according to a motion signed by defense attorneys Mark Stevens, Joe Spencer and Felix Valenzuela. "It did not, though, and the fact that the prosecutors now belatedly express a disagreement with the ruling expressed by the Court cannot serve as grounds for recusal."
Separately, an attorney representing Rosales has been served with court documents in a lawsuit seeking to remove her from office.
Defense attorney Omar Carmona is alleging "official misconduct and continued incompetence." In a statement, the DA has called the lawsuit "frivolous" and "meritless" and has vowed to fight it.
This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: Court to weigh El Paso judge's recusal in Walmart mass shooting case