A local conservative activist filed a petition seeking the removal of one of the county's top law enforcement officials: District Attorney Mark Gonzalez.
The 118-page petition, filed by Colby Wiltse, a Nueces County resident and Texas state director for County Citizens Defending Freedom, contends the two-term Democratic district attorney should be removed from office as a result of "incompetency, official misconduct, and failure to give bond."
Gonzalez has "mishandled and mismanaged murder cases, motions to revoke, criminal dismissal rates, and intentionally nullified duly enacted laws of his oath of office," according to the petition. Under his supervision, the local criminal justice system is "in crisis with backlogged cases and a shortage of experienced professional prosecutors," according to the petition.
Gonzalez, reached by the Caller-Times Monday, declined to comment on the filing.
"I won't be making any comment at this time," Gonzalez said in a written statement. "However, I will say we will challenge all allegations and are proud of the work we have done."
Any Texas resident can file such a petition, which, if a state district judge allows it to proceed, leads to a formal citation against the officeholder. State law outlines that removal may be considered on the grounds of incompetency, official misconduct, intoxication or failure to give a bond.
How the petition will fare in court remains to be seen. It could be prosecuted by the county attorney, Jenny Dorsey, and a jury could be empaneled to consider whether removal is merited. The verdict could be appealed by either party. Texas Gov. Greg Abbott is tasked with appointing a replacement should an elected official be removed.
Based on allegations of incompetence and misconduct, this rare process was looming over former El Paso District Attorney Yvonne Rosales before she ultimately resigned, according to reporting by the El Paso Times. Her term was set to expire in 2024.
Earlier Texas DA appointment: Gov. Greg Abbott appoints Bill Hicks to replace Yvonne Rosales as El Paso DA
Court records show the petition will be heard in the 319th District Court by Judge David Stith, though a different judge could be tapped to oversee proceedings.
Who is Colby Wiltse?
Wiltse is in the leadership ranks of County Citizens Defending Freedom USA, a conservative organization whose Nueces County chapter has sought to assess sexual education in local school districts and remove certain books from school shelves.
The group was behind recent book challenges to Corpus Christi ISD and West Oso ISD. Last summer, teachers protested outside the group's office after a social media post circulated about the group's efforts to review library books and curricula and the social media pages of school staff. Created in September 2020, a private Facebook group for CCDF's Nueces County chapter has more than 470 members.
The petition against Gonzalez was filed on behalf of Wiltse by Jonathan Hullihan, an attorney primarily practicing in The Woodlands outside of Houston. He is County Citizens Defending Freedom's lead attorney in Texas.
Gonzalez was first elected in 2016. The Agua Dulce native spent most of his career as a defense attorney before running for office.
Allegations in the petition
The petition lists more than a half-dozen reasons to remove Gonzalez from office, citing local media coverage and outcomes in high-profile cases.
Among the cases listed is the prolonged capital murder case of Breanna Wood. In this case, the district attorney's office recused itself. It will now be tried by the Texas Attorney General's Office.
In August, when considering whether to dismiss the charges against the defendants, a visiting judge found that "although 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, such misconduct does not rise to the level requiring the dismissal of the capital murder indictments."
The petition also cites staff shortages in the district attorney's office and Gonzalez's efforts to respond to the issue.
In June, during a public meeting, Gonzalez's chief prosecutor, Angelica Hernandez, said the office was down 13 prosecutors, a deficit she said had strained the remaining staff and hindered efforts to tackle the courts' growing backlog. (She contended this was emblematic of a statewide trend for district attorney's offices.) Subsequent meetings on the subject were stymied when Gonzalez did not attend. He later said he had been on vacation and had Hernandez inform the judges ahead of time.
The petition alleges, among other complaints, that Gonzalez published social media posts advertising his private business, a restaurant named Cruisers, from his office at the Nueces County Courthouse.
Wiltse is requesting Gonzalez be indefinitely suspended from the role until a trial is concluded. Gonzalez ran for the office and won in 2016, and won reelection in 2020. He has previously indicated he would not run for reelection when his current term is up.
This article originally appeared on Corpus Christi Caller Times: Conservative activist seeks removal of Nueces County DA Mark Gonzalez
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