El PASO, Texas -- The Texas Attorney General's Office joined a lawsuit filed Friday against El Paso County over Judge Ricardo Samaniego's business closure order aimed at controlling the rapid spread of Covid-19 that has overwhelmed local hospitals.
The lawsuit was brought by ten El Paso restaurants, many with common ownership. The list included such names as West Texas Chophouse, Peter Piper Pizza, Famous Dave's, Cafe Central, Toro Burger and Charcoaler.
State Attorney General Ken Paxton, who had threatened his own legal action, joined the effort in a court filing where he alleged Samanigo's mandate wasn't valid because he had usurped powers that belong to the governor. (You can read the entire court brief at the bottom of this article.)
Samaniego signaled he was prepared for a legal battle, rejecting the attorney general's opinion that had been already been voiced in an advisory letter issued by his office.
"That Order is valid, legal and enforceable," Samaniego said in a statement. "As a matter of law, the Attorney General's letter does not carry any legal weight. It is just an informal letter from the attorney general. Only a court can decide if my order is invalid and I firmly believe that a court will not do so."
The judge called upon law enforcement to carry out his order amid word from the El Paso Police Department that it would defer to the attorney general's view and not enforce it. The El Paso County Sheriff's Office said it would operate separately under guidance from the county attorney.
"We received a lawsuit, however until such time that a Court orders otherwise, my order still stands. All businesses are required to follow my order. Any business in violation of my order can be cited," Samaniego said.
The judge also accused Mayor Dee Margo of violating state law by encouraging businesses to ignore his public health order.
"State law provides that to the extent of a conflict between decisions of a County Judge or Mayor the decision of the County Judge prevails," Samaniego explained as he called upon Margo to set aside their differences.
"We each have an obligation to do everything possible to support our health care professionals, those who are sick, and those who will become sick to stop the spread of this virus," the judge said.
Margo, at a news conference Friday afternoon, said he was following the advice of the attorney general and called the judge's order "unenforceable."