SPECIAL REPORT – In a surreal moment, District Attorney Jaime Esparza found himself seated on the criminal defense side of the courtroom as he sat and listened to Judge Ables rule that there is sufficient probable cause to find that a crime has been committed against the State of Texas. On the twelfth floor of the County Court House, in the Ceremonial Court, Esparza, along with four attorneys sat fidgeting while the proceedings progressed. There is no doubt that it was disconcerting for Esparza to be seated at the Defendant’s table while his attorneys attempted to silence the proceedings by basing their arguments on technicalities that in the end proved for naught. The only thing missing in the proceedings was handcuffs and chains, but in the end the right of the people to question the integrity of its government was upheld by Judge Ables. Promptly at 9:10 in the morning, Judge Ables convened the court and explained the proceedings to the 50 or so lawyers and community citizens in attendance. The buzz in the courtroom and at the Court House leaves no doubt how momentous this occasion was. Judge Ables explained that the proceedings would start with him wearing his hat as Administrative Judge in order to entertain the motions filed by the District Attorney asking that the affidavit convening the Court of Inquiry be quashed.
Immediately, attorney Theresa Caballero objected to this action by stating that this is in fact the Court of Inquiry pursuant to the code and therefore District Attorney Esparza should not be using his office to represent his interests. Judge Ables denied the objection. Attorney Caballero than read into the record the rights afforded any criminal defendant in order to preserve the integrity of the record for future proceedings. It must have been very disconcerting for District Attorney Jaime Esparza hearing the Miranda Rights that he must routinely administer to suspects or has someone in his chain of command administer to suspects in investigations he directs. Having the rights of any defendant read into the record brings to light the seriousness of the proceedings targeting District Attorney Jaime Esparza, his office and the actions of officers of the Police Department to include former Chief of Police Leon. Attorney Caballero then advised the court that the only defendants properly represented in the proceedings were officers Garcia and Machorro as they had a Police Association Attorney representing them. The technicalities raised by Caballero were that Esparza must have his own attorney and not rely on taxpayer attorneys for his defense.
Judge Ables stated for the record that he had not yet convened the Court of Inquiry and was just hearing the motions objecting to the Court filed by the District Attorney’s office and the City of El Paso. Attorney Davis, of the District Attorney filed motions that objected to the Court of Inquiry because among other issues the District Attorney was not notified in advance of a hearing to file the affidavit seeking it in the first place. The position of the District Attorney is that under Texas code, the District Attorney’s office must be present in all cases involving allegations of criminal conduct in the State of Texas. Attorney Stuart Leeds and Theresa Caballero pointed out to the court that in their interpretation this was not a valid position because the legislature envisioned a time when the District Attorney itself would be the subject of a criminal investigation and therefore provided the mechanism of the Court of Inquiry.
The District Attorney’s position then moved on to the notion of the Constitutionality of the Court of Inquiry itself. According to Davis, representing the position of Jaime Esparza, a Court of Inquiry somehow violates the separation of powers between the legislature and the judicial branches of government. It is difficult to address this issue because as Leeds pointed out that the Constitution guarantees the rights of the people over the government. Davis’ argument was based on the notion that these proceedings were somehow intended to overthrow a seated District Attorney. Davis further added that the prosecution of criminal cases was somehow the exclusive purview of the District Attorney and therefore a Court of Inquiry was invalid.
Davis than added another argument in objection based on technicalities of the differing readings of the code on which it was based. Davis’ argument was based on his interpretation of the code on who is the responsible party signing the actual affidavit that requested convening the Court of Inquiry. According to his interpretation, Judge Roman should have signed the affidavit detailing the criminal acts themselves. As Davis was making his presentation, attorney Leeds objected to which Judge Ables indicated that he was just about to get to that. The technicality basically came down to the notion that the District Attorney expected Judge Roman to sign an affidavit indicating he had knowledge of a crime. That would be impossible because if this interpretation were to be held true then the only party with the ability to convene a Court of Inquiry would be the judges themselves leaving the community completely out of the loop. Finally, Davis attempted to portray the affidavit as not being sufficient to show probable cause that a crime had been committed.
At approximately 9:46 in the morning, the District Attorney’s office concluded their presentation and Judge Ables asked City Attorney Lisa Elizondo if she had anything to add on behalf of the City. Elizondo stated that the city’s position is the same as the District Attorney’s office and requested that the Court of Inquiry not be convened. Theresa Caballero again objected to this as Esparza should not have legal representation paid for by tax dollars as her position clearly shows. Elizondo added for the record that her only interest in this matter is to defend the interests of the City.
At about 9:48, attorney Stuart Leeds rebutted the position of the District Attorney and the City in an impassioned presentation that boiled down to the issue of a possible cover-up by the District Attorney. He asked, “If the time is not now, then when?” in reference to justice prevailing. His argument reinforces the notion that a Court of Inquiry, “is the only mechanism” available to the community to investigate the District Attorney. During his presentation it was indicated that Jaime Esparza was at the scene of the interrogation of the alleged sexual assault victim further raising the questions about Esparza’s actions on this case.
A few minutes before 10:00 in the morning Theresa Caballero closed her arguments by stating that each and every one of the allegations in the affidavit are in themselves enough probable cause to show that a crime may have been committed.
At approximately 10:09, Judge Ables denied all of Jaime Esparza’s motions and appointed himself the judge presiding over the Court of Inquiry he had just convened. Setting the ground rules for the Court of Inquiry, the judge admonished that due process must be observed and that the process must be transparent. The court will now create the scope of the Court of Inquiry. The scope is expected to include the following allegations.
An allegation of rape has been levied against officers Garcia and Machorro. Obstruction of justice and retaliation have been levied against the officers and Jaime Esparza. Conspiracy was levied against Jaime Esparza and “others” in his department as well as the Police Officers. A charge of stalking was alleged against officers Garcia and Machorro. Allegations of Official Oppression were also levied against the District Attorney’s office and Jaime Esparza. An allegation of perjury was also levied against the two officers. Allegations of Abuse of Official Capacity, False Reporting, Assault and Unlawful Restraint were also levied against officers Machorro and Garcia. Finally, the litanies of charges were rounded out by Contempt of Court being levied against Jaime Esparza and his assistant Marcos Lizzaraga.
Although this is the beginning of a long process, there is no doubt that this is just the beginning of a long list of charges of abuse that will eventually begin to surface. The perception of impunity by which the District Attorney seems to have operated under for many years seems to be at an end. The road to resolution will be long and difficult but the case of an open judiciary for the people demands that this Court of Inquiry be open and transparent as Judge Ables commented during the hearing. In the end it is hoped that justice is served and that the message be sent clearly to all those in government who wish to usurp the rights of the community are now put on notice that El Paso is now ready to fight for its rights.
The El Paso Tribune was the first to bring this issue to the public’s attention and we will continue to cover this issue until the end. The El Paso Tribune will compile a complete record of the public record so that the community can be free to draw their own conclusions. It is the beginning of a new dawn in our community where the people have begun to assert their authority and in the end this community will be the better for it. Attorneys Theresa Caballero and Stuart Leeds as well as the courage of the alleged victim and her family should be highly commended as their actions have finally forced the community to address this very important public issue. At this point both Theresa Caballero and Stuart Leeds are out of the process as far as the Court of Inquiry is concerned. They, the community and the family must now sit back and let the process play out, something that Esparza and his cohorts have refused to do from the beginning.