Tomorrow’s court hearing regarding the affidavit seeking to convene a Court of Inquiry to investigate wrongdoing in the city’s District Attorney and the Police Department is sure to present drama, but the reality is so insidious that the community, at the very least, should carefully consider the ramifications of the whole fiasco. On one hand the integrity of the system is at stake as the foundation of its viability, trust, has seriously been violated in the eyes of the community. On the other hand, the actions of the public actions of the District Attorney, Jaime Esparza, just this week seriously brings to question the seriousness and integrity by which he approaches the legal system in our city. As the highest representative of the legal system, Esparza should at the very least show public respect for the institution he purports to represent, instead of the disregard for integrity he seemingly has displayed in the last few days. On January 27, 2004 not only did Esparza himself publicly state on television that he would be proceeding forward with his case against the two officers before a Grand Jury but his office also notified the mother of the alleged sexual assault victim to be ready for a subpoena compelling her to testify before the Grand Jury. This in light of the fact that one court has a pending Stay in effect prohibiting him from presenting the case before the Grand Jury. From Esparza’s point of view, according to public statements he has made, his position on this matter is that the stay does not prohibit him from proceeding before another Grand Jury. Accepting for a minute that his position is correct, from a purely technical sense, the fact remains that he appears to be circumventing one court to go to the next. This still does not address the issue of the upcoming hearing that will be addressing a motion for stay asking the Court prohibiting Esparza from presenting his case to any Grand Jury. Considering the vocal position from the attorneys requesting the stay and from the fact that a hearing would be heard tomorrow on this issue, then Esparza’s insistence on going on with his Grand Jury not only appears to be disrespectful of the authority of the Court over him but also begs the question, why the insistence on proceeding since he originally did not want to present the case to the Grand Jury, which is the impetuous for the affidavit requesting the Court of Inquiry?
Why the change of heart? Why is it that at first the case against the police officers was insufficient to present to the Grand Jury, and then all of a sudden it is imperative that it be presented? What has changed that has forced the District Attorney to all of a sudden want to present the case before the Grand Jury? And is Esparza confident enough in his lawyerly expertise to know for sure that Judge Ables will be ordering in his favor therefore he is just preparing for that eventuality? Maybe Esparza would just rather forego Judge Ables’ ruling and proceed forward without regard to the court’s ruling. This public perception is what has created this problem for Esparza one that must seriously be addressed by the community. Adding further fuel to the perception of lack of integrity within the system, Esparza feels comfortable enough to go on television and tell Ms. Navarrete, reporter for KTSM that he “has not presented” the case against the officers in one interview and promptly change his position on the following interview. Did he or did he not already present the case? Is this just a case of work overload, pressure from the upcoming hearing or just an overall attitude that this community doesn’t really care what transpires in our judicial system being displayed by Esparza?
On the legal front, a series of motions and open records filed by attorneys Caballero and Leeds further exposes the serious nature of the whole fiasco. In a letter dated January 27, 2004 copied to all the news media on the community, with the exception of our local daily, addressed to Jaime Esparza the requests themselves raises other questions regarding the actions of the District Attorney’s office in the handling of these two cases. One such request in particular, number 3; “Any logs, notes or records which would reflect your whereabouts on May 17-18, 2002” raises the question if, in fact, Esparza had personal involvement from the first day the allegations were levied against the two officers? Had Esparza being present at the time that the video of the interrogation of the alleged victim was being made or was he at the alleged crime scene collecting evidence or interviewing witnesses? What was Esparza’s involvement on the night the accusations were levied and did they in fact have any bearing on his declining the case in the first place? Other questions such as, were steps taken to preserve the crime scene on the night the alleged incident occurred or was the vehicle of the officers inspected for evidence conducted, and if not why not? Wouldn’t it be prudent to at least inspect the police vehicle if an allegation is levied against an officer, after all there is no need to secure a search warrant as the police vehicles are owned by the city and therefore they have the right to inspect them at any time? If these basic evidence techniques were completed, wouldn’t it be incumbent upon the District Attorney and the Police Department to properly document them and make them part of the public record, after all it would surely vindicate their positions? Do these records even exist?
Further, in a motion filed before Judge Ables, the attorneys have requested a clarification as to whether the hearing on Friday, January 30, 2004 is in fact the beginning of the Court of Inquiry or is it to address motions filed by both sides of this legal contest. This becomes important because should this be the start of the actual Court of Inquiry than Jaime Esparza becomes a “suspect in a criminal case” forcing him to be prepared to represent himself before the court or hire legal representation. If this in fact is the case, one would wonder if Jaime Esparza would then find himself being read his “Miranda Rights” before the commencement of the hearing, after all if this is in fact the start of the Court of Inquiry then it is reasonable to assume he would be a suspect in the allegations of wrongdoing. It will be interesting to see how the court will handle this situation; after all it would be incumbent upon all present that all receive a fair and open court hearing in order to retain the public’s trust in the judicial system of our community.
In another motion filed before the court, attorneys for the alleged sexual assault victim have requested that two attorneys be appointed by the court to represent the interests of the State of Texas. This raises another interesting paradigm for the court in that the hearing scheduled for Friday seems to be the prelude to the Court of Inquiry and therefore District Attorney Jaime Esparza would have a conflict of interest in first presenting himself and then the State as both positions may not converge for the benefit of both parties. This again begs the question, is the hearing set for tomorrow the Court of Inquiry itself or a prelude to said court? If it is a prelude, how will the court rule on how the code reads in that the Court of Inquiry was in fact first convened when Judge Roman signed the order?
When this case first came to light in December in the El Paso Tribune the actions of the District Attorney seemed to be a case of just sloppy work, one that would not adversely affect the integrity of the system as each position could effectively be argued one way or another. On the other hand, as the case has developed through the last few weeks, the actions of the District Attorney and his staff seem suspect at best. Why would a District Attorney first want to decline a case, only to want to present it later because “the family wants us to”, as Esparza recently said on television? Sure this looks plausible on the surface after all what family wouldn’t want their case forcefully presented? But this does not address the issue of the prohibition of a District Attorney from presenting a case that he himself does not feel that a crime was committed. Esparza’s position on this issue was firmly cemented when he publicly stated that he felt the case against the officers was not warranted and by the fact that he proceeded to file criminal charges against the alleged victim. Esparza resists weeks of pressure to present the case then capitulates and begins the process, even though he cannot have a good-faith position that the officers committed a crime. Admitting that he can be swayed by a grieving family, what can the community expect if a well-heeled community member all of a sudden wanted someone prosecuted and leaned heavily on the District Attorney?
And, what about the notion of fairness and equal access to the legal system that this community demands? Wouldn’t the community want to feel that if an allegation is levied against a police officer shouldn’t the community feel confident enough that everything will be done to make sure the community is protected from those who would abuse any member of the community? Shouldn’t the notion of no one is above the law apply to everyone regardless of their stature in their community?
It is questions such as these that demands that the Court of Inquiry be conducted openly and fairly for all concerned. When a notion begins to precipitate among the community that a sense of corruption may exist, then it is incumbent upon the judiciary to openly address all the issue and not just the ones that it deems convenient. Convenience is not an option when the system itself is questioned as the integrity of the process is paramount to all other considerations. In the end, the issue before the court is one of the process and not one of who is lying or not. The process, itself is being questioned because the players have refused to be forthcoming to our community, when they should have been acting openly and transparently. Hopefully Judge Ables will restore our confidence in the system tomorrow. Stay tuned as the El Paso Tribune will continue to cover this developing case.