District judge asks parties to find middle ground in shutdown hearing for El Paso County

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A closed up building is pictured on October 23, 2020 in downtown El Paso, Texas. – El Paso’s downtown has always been reliant on shoppers from neighboring Ciudad Juarez, but the border closure to non-essential traffic from Mexico has hurt businesses, whose main clientele is Mexican shoppers. (Photo by PAUL RATJE/AFP via Getty Images)

EL PASO, Texas (KTSM) — The 34th District Court heard oral arguments on Wednesday regarding a two-week shutdown order issued by El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego.

Todd Dickerson with the Office of the Attorney General said Samaniego did not have the authority to supersede Gov. Greg Abbott by issuing the order.

“We are here because Judge Samaniego did not have the authority to supersede Gov. Abbott’s emergency orders in such a matter it was an invalid and ultra vires act and it must be immediately enjoined today,” Dickerson said.

Attorney Mark Osborn, who represents El Paso small businesses, requested an injunction to the order.

“Force our elected officials to do their job, not just whatever each one wants to do. Make them work together for a common good, make the county judge go back to the governor, make the county judge and the governor keep talking, make them keep working together until they agree on a unified plan,” Osborn said.

Jed Untereker, Assistant County Attorney, said Samaniego made a hard decision to protect the community and said the court should deny any temporary injection to the order, arguing that the county judge did have the authority to issue the order due to the current public health crisis in El Paso.

“Our community is in a public health crisis, people are dying, infection rates are through the roof and hospitals are at capacity,” Untereker said. “The Texas Disasters Act of 1975 expressly gives power to a county judge to take action in an emergency or disaster situation just like this, and that is what our County Judge Ricardo Samaniego did.”

William Moody, 34th District Judge, asked both parties to talk to one another, encouraging them to try and find a middle ground with one another before he makes a decision.

“Go back and talk to each of your clients. Encourage them to try and talk to each other before I am going to rule. If you can, find some middle ground at a time when middle ground may not be as easy to find,” Moody said. “I truly encourage both parties and I do that in many cases, not just this case, to try and find something that will work for all of El Pasoans, recognizing right now that we are in a more deep crisis than most anywhere else or anywhere else in the state.”

Moody has given each party until 5 p.m. on Wednesday to supplement their arguments, saying he will have a ruling no later than Friday morning.

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