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Former District Attorney Candidate Concerned About Pending Cases as D.A. Rosales Resigns

EL PASO, Texas (KVIA) -- As El Paso nears the end of Yvonne Rosales' tenure as El Paso district attorney, ABC-7 hears from a man who once went head-to-head with Rosales for the position -- and warned after her election that she was unprepared for the job.

James Montoya was an assistant district attorney under the previous D.A. Jaime Esparza for seven years, but left the prosecutor's office shortly after losing the primary to Rosales in 2020. He even left the state to work in the U.S. Attorney's office in Oklahoma for 18 months.

Now, he's back in El Paso and working in the El Paso County Public Defender's Office.

He was in the courtroom last week to hear the explosive testimony by a family of a Walmart shooting victim, who accused Rosales, as well as her representatives and members of her office, of intimidation and impersonating them to El Paso journalists.

Montoya was also in the courtroom when Rosales took the stand and invoked her right to remain silent to avoid self-incrimination.

He discussed his thoughts on what we witnessed unfold in court.

"Really, what's transpired in the last couple months, what we've seen happen in the last several months in the Walmart cases, is really shocking," Montoya said. "This is this is kind of the worst case scenario. This is as bad as it could have gotten."

During the 2020 primary and even after Rosales won, Montoya was vocal in his opposition to her taking over the office. He released a video on social media in which he said Rosales' decision to let go a quarter of the attorneys, paralegals and other staffers would be detrimental to the community.

He said Tuesday it wasn't just the Aug. 3, 2019 mass shooting case that was on his mind, but the thousands of other cases that are pending and constantly being entered into the El Paso justice system.

"It sucks to know that I was right, or that this came to fruition," Montoya said. "It's very unfortunate that people have been hurt by it; victims, people accused of crimes waiting to know whether their case is actually going to move forward or not; police officers that don't know whether their cases are moving forward or not. The courts are just clogged.

Montoya was most concerned about the dismissal of nearly a thousand cases due to the D.A.'s office not officially filing charges in a timely fashion.

"You know, these these 32-01 motions where people are having their their cases dismissed- that was something that never happened under Jaime Esparza, you know, when we were there, that just did not happen," he added.

As we await an announcement from the governor about who will be named to fill the remainder of Rosales' term, ABC-7 asked Montoya what it would take to rebuild the office both morally and physically.

In light of the leaked emails obtained by ABC-7 from D.A. staff and attorneys, there appears to a morale problem on the second floor of the county courthouse. Plus, numerous attorneys have cycled in and out of the state prosecutor's office in the last two years, the prosecutors overseeing cases has been shuffled, and the office is understaffed.

"It's going to be a tall tall task for whoever the interim D.A. is, and certainly, whoever the next elected DA is, building trust within the office," Montoya said. "The emails indicate to me that there's a sense of embarrassment, of paranoia in the office, mistrust, and distrust.

"I think that's where it starts, they're rebuilding that trust and confidence within the D.A.'s office, and then slowly having to earn the trust of the community again."

Montoya emphasized that what is happening at the D.A.'s office isn't affecting the federal Walmart shooting case.

"With everything else, it's hard to say. You know, there are cases that have been pending since since I was there in 2016, 2017, 2018. I'm hoping that once the interim D.A. is there, we'll be able to start trying more of these old cases."

I asked Montoya if he will consider running for district attorney again. He said he would need to talk to his family and friends before making a firm decision.

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Stephanie Valle

Stephanie Valle co-anchors ABC-7 at 5, 6 and 10 weeknights.


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