CORPUS CHRISTI — On Wednesday morning, Nueces County District Attorney Mark Gonzalez was on the other side of the table as he sat before a judge, waiting to see if a trial will go forward that could remove him from office.
The hearing stemmed from a petition filed in January from conservative group leader Colby Wiltse. Official misconduct and incompetence were just some of the accusations against the district attorney.
A judge would have to issue a citation to Gonzalez for a trial to move forward. Retired Senior Judge David Peeples from San Antonio heard arguments from both sides at Wednesday’s hearing.
Chris Gale, Gonzalez’s attorney, said the petition was politically motivated because conservatives don’t like that Gonzalez has chosen not to prosecute certain cases.
“To me, there’s been an attack around Texas against DAs that maybe have a slant towards an abortion issues or transgender issues or that and they come under attack because of this, and that’s part of this petition,” Gale said.
Wiltse’s attorney said that’s not the case.
“It’s not political,” Jonathan Hullihan said. “Republican. Democrat. I don’t care what political party you are. If you aren’t following the law, you’re not doing your job and you met those elements of the statute, you should be subjected to this from the public.”
Nueces County Attorney Jenny Dorsey, who joined the lawsuit against Gonzalez, said he is incompetent and showed gross negligence.
She claimed there is evidence that Gonzalez isn't present in his office and that he doesn't give the proper guidance to his staff, which is his responsibility.
“When he frugally allows a victim’s mother to have sole possession and unobserved access to documents, exhibits, that would be perhaps acceptable if there were some guidelines,” Dorsey said in court. “If there were some directions."
Dorsey was referring to 6 Investigates story in which Fallon Wood, the mother of murder victim Breanna Wood, alleges first assistant DA, Angelica Hernandez, allowed Fallon Wood to sort through evidence in her daughter’s case at the DA’s office.
Hernandez later said, under oath, that Fallon Wood was granted access to discovery, but that they were unsealed public files. Judge Manuel J. Banales on that case later finding, "there was credible evidence of gross incompetence, negligence and/or carelessness on the part of the Nueces County District Attorney's Office in the prosecution and investigation of these cases."
“They are going to argue that that was incompetency,” Gale said. “I would argue that it’s the opposite. That they’re utilizing resources from wherever they may be especially from the mother of the victim who wants to participate and wants to provide information and wants to help in order to get the conviction of the person who killed her daughter. That’s not incompetency. That’s intelligence.”
Gale said there’s no evidence of any illegal activity or wrongdoing on Gonzalez’s part.
“They have shown nothing to show that he is unaware of his obligations of an attorney or as the DA,” Gale said. “They have shown nothing in regard to misconduct or some kind of incompetency or anything of that nature."
Dorsey also pointed to the high number of dismissals coming out of the DA’s office.
“He’s using this ‘I’m going to use the reason of CJIS compliance, we’re going to dismiss these cases so that the county gets it’s money,” Dorsey said.
6 Investigates acquired data that showed the Nueces County court system dismissed nearly three out of every four cases between January 2019 and December 2021, disposing of — the legal term for cases that have been resolved by the courts — of 24,060 cases during that time through convictions, deferred adjudication, and dismissals.
In 2021, Nueces County was eligible for roughly $1 million of state grant money for being compliant with the CJIS requirements.
According to Department of Public Safety documents, counties are required to close an average of 90 percent of cases over a five-year period either by the courts or DA’s offices.
Courts get 30 days to finalize dispositions and then results must be reported to DPS within five days.
“The law does not require that the DA’s office to pursue a case,” Gale said. “The law allows them to make the determination on what cases they pursue and what cases they don’t pursue.” Other arguments were made including the issue of Gonzalez having a bond when he came into office, which Dorsey said wasn’t filed correctly.
“This is carelessness,” Dorsey said. “This is ignorance of his official duties. It’s not a mystery. It’s right here. There are instructions on the documents themselves, especially with regard to the oath. Fill it in Send it to this office. Send it to this mailbox. He just doesn’t care.”
Dorsey said Gonzalez allegedly showed his carelessness through several of his regular Friday Facebook lives.
“Mr. Gonzalez, like him or love him, doesn’t really matter,” Gale said. “He’s the tattoo-wielding DA that calls it how he sees it. You know what? That’s his management style. That’s how he does things.”
After nearly two hours, Judge Peeples gave Dorsey two weeks to amend the petition against Gonzalez.
Something that is likely to be taken out, is Gonzalez’s decision not to prosecute abortion cases or those involving transgender rights. Gale said no such cases have been presented to the DA’s office which is irrelevant.
“I think we represent the people every day here,” Gonzalez said to the media after the hearing. “My staff and my coworkers do a great job with little resources under trying times. And, so, we are going to continue to do what’s right and that’s what we’ve always done.”