The Courts of Inquiry and El Paso Public Corruption

The following is a guest post by Judge Richard A. Roman

“When two elephants fight, it’s the grass that gets trampled” – African proverb.

  • “A sitting Texas judge faces a rare court of inquiry reviewing allegations of prosecutorial misconduct in a 25 year jail sentence before the defendant was exonerated.”  (National Public Radio).
  • “Today, a Texas judge began a court of inquiry to investigate flawed evidence used to execute a man for killing his three young children. The inquiry seeks to determine if an exonerated individual will be “the first person officially declared innocent after being executed in the modern era of US capital punishment.” (Austin-American Statesman)
  • Allegations that Texas Governor Rick Perry attempted to apply executive branch-type pressure upon Travis County District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to resign in the wake of her DWI conviction has prompted the convening of a Court of Inquiry  (KVUE – Austin, Texas)
  • In 1994, Judge Edward Marquez of the 65th District Court, sworn State Senator Eliot Shapleigh as an attorney ad litem for the El Paso Court of Inquiry to investigate whether the constitutional rights of the citizens of El Paso had been denied due to historically inadequate funding. Disparities in local funding were successfully identified.
  • “Rarely Used Courts (of Inquiry) Investigate El Paso Police and District Attorney”, By Ralph Blumenthal (New York Times, published: June 4, 2004).

El Paso suffers from a depressing self-image. There is plenty of blame to go around. How does rampant corruption occur in the presence of DA Jamie Esparza and former County Attorney Jose Rodriguez? EPISD is no stranger to longstanding allegations of corruption, county government as well. Do we blame a lazy, incompetent – or even worse – a complicit news media? Some say nothing will ever change, whistleblowers will always be punished.

The FBI finally had to get involved to spearhead a far-reaching, ongoing public corruption investigation. However, investigative courts of inquiry were present before all of this. Indeed, a strong argument can be made that their purpose was first tested right here in El Paso. The rest of Texas seems to have followed El Paso’s example. I was fortunate to have a ringside seat at one such inquiry  We must be mindful that in our community, the people are the “grass”. Our elected officials, law enforcement, the news media and anyone in a position of public trust are the “elephants”. So when elephants clash, like in in the public corruption scandal, “it’s the grass that gets trampled”.

Editor’s note: Judge Richard A. Roman is the former judge of the 346th District Court. Judge Roman signed the order convening the first of six Courts of Inquiry that looked into allegations of wrongdoing at the El Paso Police Department and the office of District Attorney Jaime Esparza.

One thought on “The Courts of Inquiry and El Paso Public Corruption

  1. Judge Roman, thank you for this interesting post. I have a question on how a Court of Inquiry is begun. Must an attorney petition for a Court of Inquiry? Who makes the decision on whether a Court of Inquiry will take place?

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