County Attorney Press Releases

Lower Valley Ballroom Administrators Arrested For Deceptive Business Practices

Today El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal announced the arrest of two individuals accused of shutting down their party hall business without notice after taking thousands of dollars in advance payments from unsuspecting consumers.

Mission Valley Ballroom administrator Donna Cortez Flores and ballroom's manager Ricardo Espinoza were arrested today by County Attorney's investigators. Flores was arrested around 9:15 a.m. at a residence in East El Paso. Espinoza was detained at his current place of employment in central El Paso.

Police reports indicate that from September, 2008, and up until January 2011, the defendants received more than $98,000 from 36 residents who paid them in advance to hold events at the Mission Valley Ballroom scheduled for 2011. After closing the ballroom at the beginning of this year, the defendants are alleged to have failed to return the money to the victims.

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal explained "a business owner who takes money in advance, receives that money in trust. If they choose to violate that trust, the law holds them accountable."

"We allege these defendants violated the law and that trust," Bernal concluded.

El Paso County Attorney's Office filed criminal charges in relation to 6 of the victims, and continues investigating the cases for the remaining 30 victims. Additional arrests are likely.

45 year-old Donna Cortez Flores faces six counts of Deceptive Business Practices, a crime of dishonesty punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine not to exceed $4,000. She was booked in the County jail shortly after 10:00 a.m. and her bond was set at $1,800.

45-year-old Ricardo Espinoza faces five counts of Deceptive Business Practices, and his bond was set at $2,500.

Residents who believe they might be victims of this or any other similar case, are asked to contact the Criminal Section of the County Attorney's Office, at 546-2050.

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El Paso County Receives 2.7 Million Reimbursement From The Department Of Justice

Funds will help lessen impact of state budget cuts

El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar today announced that the Department of Justice has reimbursed $2.7 million in expenditures the County of El Paso incurred while prosecuting and incarcerating federally referred offenders during FY 2008 and 2009.

The first reimbursement, of $135,000 for cases handled during fiscal year 2008, was received on January 25, 2011. The second reimbursement, in the amount of $2.57 million for cases handled during FY 2009, arrived Monday, May 23, 2011.  All the monies have been transferred to the County's general fund.

The two payments mark the end of a multi-year dispute over billings submitted by the El Paso County to the Department of Justice under the Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative (SWBPI) during fiscal years 2001 through 2006.

Additionally, last week the County of El Paso submitted bills in the amount of $1.06 million, for cases handled during FY 2010.

The resolution clears the way for El Paso County to remain eligible to receive future federal reimbursements for prosecuting and jailing federally referred offenders. This agreement also guarantees federal law enforcement agents will receive the necessary assistance from local law enforcement agencies and the District Attorney's Office to process and prosecute individuals accused of criminal violations.

The push to receive reimbursement from the federal government was spearheaded by District Attorney Jaime Esparza and County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal.

"Over the past 12 months our offices have worked tirelessly to ensure that every county money eligible for reimbursement was aggressively pursued," said County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal.

District Attorney Jaime Esparza said, "Compensating border counties for the criminal justice cost they incur assisting the federal government with lower level criminal cases makes good sense. State prosecutors have the flexibility to handle these routine cases efficiently and hold all offenders accountable. An equitable partnership between federal, state, and local authorities works and is necessary to curtail the flow of illegal drugs into our community." 

El Paso County Judge Veronica Escobar recognized the hard work of employees from the Auditor's Office, the District Attorney's Office, and the County Attorney's Office, who worked for several months on getting the Office of the Inspector General the necessary information to resolve this dispute.

"In the upcoming months the El Paso County will be facing serious financial challenges due to the budget cuts that the Texas legislature is expected to approve during its current session. These reimbursements could not have come at a better time. Commissioners Court is working very diligently to reduce expenditures and increase revenue to avoid, to the extent possible, a raise in property taxes for next fiscal year," Escobar said.

"We will make sure these monies will go long ways towards achieving that goal," Escobar concluded.

# # #

About the Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative: In 2000, under the leadership of District Attorney Jaime Esparza, a coalition of border prosecutors alerted the federal government that some of the nation's poorest counties were shouldering the financial burden of accepting federally-referred cases into the criminal justice system. For many years, state prosecutors along the southwest border provided the federal government with support allowing great flexibility to prosecute lower level offenders in state court.

In 2001, the federal government created the Southwest Border Prosecution Initiative through the Bureau of Justice Assistance that reimbursed border counties for their assistance in prosecuting lower-level federally-initiated drug cases.  This reimbursement program has facilitated an efficient use of the limited resources available to prosecute crime along the border.

Federal Reimbursement Press Release.pdf

Canadian Citizen Featured On El Paso’s Most Wanted In October Sentenced For Deceptive Business

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal today announced the sentencing of a Canadian citizen accused of committing Deceptive Business Practices in El Paso.

This morning, 71-year-old Gordan Gladu received a 331 day sentence after pleading guilty to two Deceptive Business Practice cases, crimes involving fraud and deceit punishable by up to one year in jail and/or a fine not to exceed $4,000.

Between March and October, 2010, Gladu, who was doing business as G & G Services," received more than $8,000 from 2 victims to install new windows, but the windows were never delivered.

After accepting the guilty plea this morning, County Criminal Court at Law #1 Judge Alma Trejo sentenced Gladu to 300 days in jail in one case (which involved almost $8,000), and to 31 days in jail in the second case.

Shortly after appearing in Crime Stoppers of El Paso Most Wanted list on October 11, 2010, Gladu was arrested. At the time of his arrest, Gladu was on probation for Theft of Property of more than $20,000 but less than $100,000.

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal said this case should serve as a warning to contractors who seek to deceive the public. Bernal further advises consumers to be cautious when hiring contractors, landscapers, or other businesses that ask for money in advance, or make promises of huge savings.  

            "Mr. Gladu has a long criminal history and continued to cheat consumers even after being placed on probation. Consumers need to remember that if they pay for work in advance it is very difficult to get their hard-earned money back if the work is never delivered," Bernal said.

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Most Wanted Sentencing Press Release.pdf

Dozens Of Hot Check Writers Arrested During 3-Day Roundup

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal today announced the arrest of 54 individuals with hot check warrants during a 3-day roundup that ended Thursday night. Thirty officers from the El Paso Sheriff's Office, County Constables Precincts 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7, and investigators from the County Attorney's Office participated in the operation.

During the round ups the officers not only cleared 50 Theft by Check warrants, but also 50 additional misdemeanor warrants and 4 felony warrants.

Among those facing multiple charges was 40-year old Salvador Morales (AKA Salvador Muñoz) who was arrested on Wednesday March 9, 2011, at a residence in East El Paso. At the time of his arrest Morales, a suspected Barrio Azteca gang member, faced one misdemeanor theft by check charge and one Deceptive Business Practices charge. While booking him in the county jail, officers learned that Morales had an outstanding warrant from the State of Nevada, where he faces drug charges for trafficking with methamphetamines. Morales remains in the County jail waiting to be extradited to Nevada and his bond was set at $10,000.

  Individuals arrested during the roundup also paid more than $36,000 in restitution to local merchants. That amount, along with the $140,000 collected since the beginning of the amnesty period on January 28, 2011, brings the total collections for the amnesty program to more than $177,000.

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal said the money collected will be returned to the victims.

"We will continue to aggressively pursue those persons with outstanding hot check warrants. I encourage those persons to pay," Bernal said

"I want to thank the El Paso Sheriff's Office for their support in organizing the round ups, particularly Sergeant John Rodriguez from the Warrants Division. Also I would like to thank the Constables from Precincts 1, 2, 3, 4, 6, and 7 and their deputies, who helped make this hot check round up the most successful yet," Bernal concluded.

            In the upcoming weeks investigators from the County Attorney's Office will continue their search for individuals with outstanding arrest warrants.

            Individuals can avoid arrest by paying their outstanding hot checks as soon as possible at the following locations:

El Paso County Courthouse

500 E. San Antonio, room 503

M- F 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

El Paso County Ysleta Annex

9521 Socorro Rd., Suite A-3

M - F 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Forms of payment accepted include credit cards, money orders, cashier checks, and cash; however, those paying with cash will have to bring the exact amount.

In addition, individuals can make payments online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through "Hot Check E-pay," by visiting the El Paso County Attorney's Office web-page at www.epcounty.com/CA

For more information regarding hot check payments and balances please contact the El Paso County Attorney's Office Hot Check Unit at 546-2051.

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2011 Hot Check Roundup Results Press Release.pdf

Amnesty Period Ends Today With 445 Offenders Paying More Than $116,000 in Hot Checks

Arrest roundups may begin unannounced immediately after

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal today announced that 445 individuals took advantage of the 2011 Hot Check Amnesty. Since January 28, 2011, when the amnesty was announced, County Attorney's Office received payment of 517 hot checks that represent more than $116,500 for local merchants. During the amnesty period, persons who paid their outstanding balances avoided payment of various charges, such as court costs, attorney fees, and the cost of posting a bond after arrest.

Individuals who did not take advantage of the amnesty period will be targeted during upcoming county-wide warrant round-ups being coordinated by the County Attorney's Office with the assistance of the El Paso Sheriff's Office, and Constables from Precincts 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7.

Individuals with outstanding hot-checks may attempt to avoid arrest in the upcoming roundups by paying as soon as possible. However, the amnesty period is over, and law enforcement officers can conduct arrests at any time without prior notice. Payments can be made at the following locations:

  • El Paso County Courthouse

500 E. San Antonio, room 503

M- F 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

  • El Paso County Ysleta Annex

9521 Socorro Rd., Suite A-3

M - F 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Forms of payment accepted include credit cards, money orders, cashier checks, and cash; however, those paying with cash will have to bring the exact amount (cashiers cannot give change).

In addition, residents can make payments online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through "Hot Check E-pay," by visiting the El Paso County Attorney's Office web-page at www.epcounty.com/CA

The list with the names of individuals and outstanding amounts will remain posted at the El Paso County Attorney's Office web page at www.epcounty.com/CA.

For more information regarding hot check payments and balances please contact the El Paso County Attorney's Office Hot Check Unit at 546-2051.

During last fiscal year (2009-2010) the Hot Check Unit collected more than $930,000 in outstanding hot checks. So far, during the first 5 months of fiscal year 2010-2011 (October-February), the County Attorney's Office has collected over $392,000.

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2011 Hot Check Amnesty Ends.pdf

Hundreds Of Residents Take Advantage Of The Hot Check Amnesty Period

 

Few hours left to take advantage of the amnesty. Arrest roundups may begin immediately after

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal today revealed that more than 340 individuals have taken advantage of the hot check amnesty period since its implementation on January 28, 2011. During the first 27 days of the amnesty period the County Attorney's Office has received payment of 393 hot checks that represent more than $107,000 for local merchants.            

Bernal also reminded hot check writers with outstanding arrest warrants that the amnesty period ends tomorrow Friday February 25, 2011, at 5:00 p.m.

Individuals who take advantage of the amnesty period and pay their outstanding balances before the end of the amnesty period will avoid arrest during an upcoming countywide warrant round-up being coordinated by the County Attorney's Office with the assistance of the El Paso Sheriff's Office and Constables from Precincts 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7. Additionally, those individuals who pay by the amnesty period will also avoid additional fees such as court costs, attorney fees, and the cost of posting a bond.

A list with the names and addresses of more than 3,000 individuals with outstanding hot check warrants who owe local merchants more than 2.7 million dollars was made public on February 13, 2011 and remains posted at the El Paso County's main webpage at (http://www.epcounty.com/). Additionally, several local media outlets have posted the Hot Check Warrant List on their web-sites to make it easier for the public to access the information.

Residents with outstanding hot check warrants can make their payments in person at the following locations:

El Paso County Courthouse

500 E. San Antonio, room 503

M- F 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

El Paso County Ysleta Annex

9521 Socorro Rd., Suite A-3

M - F 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Forms of payment accepted include credit cards, money orders, cashier checks, and cash; however, those paying with cash will have to bring the exact amount (cashiers cannot give change).

In addition, residents can make payments online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through "Hot Check E-pay," by visiting the El Paso County Attorney's Office web-page at www.epcounty.com/CA

For more information regarding hot check payments and balances please contact the El Paso County Attorney's Office Hot Check Unit at 546-2051 or visit the El Paso County Attorney's Office web site at: www.epcounty.com/CA.

In addition, for the first time the County Attorney's Office will be accepting payment plans for qualifying individuals in order to facilitate the payment of outstanding amounts.

During last fiscal year (2009-2010) the Hot Check Unit collected more than $930,000 dollars in outstanding hot checks. So far, during the first 5 months of fiscal year 2010-2011 (October-February), the County Attorney's Office has collected over $383,000.

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2011 Hot Check Amnesty Last Day.pdf

Ribbon Cutting And Swearing In Ceremony Of First Family Violence Court

This morning 65th District Court Judge Yahara Lisa Gutierrez presided over the ribbon cutting ceremony for the new Family Violence Court, also known as the "Protective Order Court." Some of the participants in the ceremony included County Commissioner Precinct 1 Anna Perez, El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal, Philip Mullin from the Family Bar Association, and Stephanie Karr, Director of the Center Against Family Violence.

During the ceremony, Michelle Little Locke was also sworn-in as the new Associate Family Court Judge and will be presiding over this new court.

El Paso's first "Protective Order Court" is dedicated exclusively to deal with victims of domestic violence and was made possible thanks to a $93,000 grant Judge Gutierrez received from the Office of the Governor of Texas. El Paso County Commissioners Court approved the creation of the new court on January 10, 2011 by authorizing the use of a special family violence fund to help pay for the salary of the new judge.

The idea behind "Protective Order Courts" is to provide a one stop venue for all issues involving the family during the duration of the protective order, including child support, custody of children and visitation issues. The new court will allow for the consolidation of a majority of the protective order caseload by transferring most of the cases to the new court.

The "Protective Order Court" will operate under the supervision of the 65th District Court,  and will allow victims of domestic violence to have expedited access to the court system on their application for protective orders. This consolidated approach will also allow for a more efficient supervision of all protective order cases, while permitting the other family courts to dedicate more time to other types of family cases.

65th District Court Yahara Lisa Gutierrez said this new Protective Order Court is a giant step forward in helping the victims of domestic violence in El Paso County.

"I am grateful for the support of the Commissioners Court and the Governor's Office. There must be recognition by the community that no amount of violence is acceptable in El Paso," said Judge Gutierrez.

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New Protective Order Court Ribbon Cutting Press Release.pdf

Procuradora Del Condado Y Fiscal De Distrito Anuncian Iniciativa Para Combatir La Violencia Doméstica Y En El Noviazgo

Incluye videos, materiales y presentaciones disponibles para todas las escuelas de nivel bachillerato ("high schools")

Hoy viernes 11 de Febrero del 2011, la Procuradora del Condado de El Paso Jo Anne Bernal y el Fiscal de Distrito Jaime Esparza anunciaron una nueva iniciativa conjunta para reducir la violencia doméstica y en el noviazgo dentro del condado.

La campaña "¡No Te Dejes! Don't Let Yourself," fue creada gracias a una beca de $80,000 otorgada por el Departamento de Justicia Criminal de la Oficina del Gobernador de Texas Rick Perry.

Esta iniciativa incluye la producción de videos que reflejan la cultura y situaciones de la vida fronteriza, y que van dirigidos a estudiantes de bachillerato ("high school") y padres de familia. Los videos, creados por la compañía productora local "MindWarp Entertainment," serán utilizados junto con materiales educativos que abarcan temas como la violencia doméstica y el abuso juvenil durante el noviazgo. Talleres didácticos que incluyen exhibiciones publicas de los videos serán impartidas por empleados de ambas dependencias públicas a estudiantes, directivos escolares, padres de familia y grupos comunitarios del condado de El Paso.

La primer dramatización tiene una duración de 16 minutos y describe las experiencias que sufre una adolescente víctima del abuso en el noviazgo, tales como la intimidación, el aislamiento y la violencia física que ejerce el abusador sobre ella para controlarla.

El segundo video, creado en inglés y en español, describe situaciones que se presentan en casos de violencia domestica entre adultos, tales como la coerción económica y el abuso sexual, la utilización de los hijos como herramienta de manipulación, y la explotación de la situación migratoria para controlar las víctimas.

Esta iniciativa es única porque todos los materiales reflejan la cultura y situaciones que son específicas de El Paso y de otras comunidades a lo largo de la frontera entre Estados Unidos y México. Al tratarse de materiales que reflejan la cultura local, se logra una mejor conexión emocional con el público, por lo que el mensaje resulta más efectivo. Hasta el momento estudiantes que han tenido la oportunidad de ver anticipadamente el video sobre violencia en el noviazgo han respondido muy positivamente al mensaje.

La iniciativa también incluye la creación de una página de Internet interactiva, y materiales didácticos que discuten las dinámicas de la violencia doméstica y del abuso en el noviazgo, prevención del problema, así como  una explicación de cómo y dónde buscar ayuda en el condado de El Paso. Otros de los tópicos que se incluyen son el acceso a la protección policiaca, el uso de las órdenes de protección, y la disponibilidad de refugios y servicios de consejería.

Personal de ambas oficinas ofrecerán presentaciones a todas las escuelas locales que lo soliciten. Las presentaciones ayudarán a que los distritos escolares cumplan con una ley estatal aprobada en Mayo del 2007 que los obliga a implementar programas de prevención de la violencia en el noviazgo.

Al comentar sobre la importancia del proyecto, el Fiscal de Distrito Jaime Esparza explicó:

"Esta iniciativa detonará conversaciones sobre el daño que causa la violencia intrafamiliar en nuestra comunidad. Esperamos ayudar igualmente a adultos y jóvenes a reconocer las señales de alerta de una relación abusiva, y proveerles información sobre cómo pueden recibir ayuda si se encuentran en esa situación, o si son victimas de la violencia domestica," dijo Esparza.

Por su parte la Procuradora del Condado Jo Anne Bernal dijo que "esta iniciativa es única porque es la primera vez que dos agencias judiciales en el Condado de El Paso se unen para crear un programa contra la violencia domestica que busca procurar justicia educando, disuadiendo, y previniendo la violencia familiar antes de que exista la necesidad de una intervención policiaca."

Las Oficinas del Fiscal de Distrito y de la Procuradora del Condado comenzarán a programar presentaciones con los distritos escolares locales a partir del 1ero de Marzo. La página de Internet interactiva comenzará a funcionar en esa misma fecha.

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Boletín Iniciativa No Te Dejes.pdf

El Paso County Attorney And District Attorney Unveil New Initiative Against Domestic/Dating Violence

Program includes videos, materials and presentations to be offered to local high schools

On Friday, February 11, 2011, El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal and District Attorney Jaime Esparza unveiled a bold new initiative to reduce domestic and dating violence in El Paso County.

This comprehensive initiative entitled "¡No Te Dejes! Don't Let Yourself," was made possible by an $80,000 grant from the Criminal Justice Department of the Texas Governor's Office.

The initiative includes the production of culturally sensitive videos targeted at local area high school students and their parents. The videos, created by local production company "MindWarp Entertainment," will be used in conjunction with a comprehensive domestic/teen dating violence curriculum. Both offices will offer the video and training curriculum to students, school administrators, parents and community groups in El Paso County.

The first video is a 16-minute dramatization that explores issues related to abusive teen dating relationships, such as the use of intimidation, isolation and physical violence to exercise power and control over the victim.

The second video, created in English and Spanish, addresses issues of domestic violence in adult relationships, such as economic and sexual abuse, the use of children to manipulate and the immigration considerations of victims involved in abusive relationships. 

The project is unique in that all aspects of the initiative were designed to reflect situations, cultures and issues specific to El Paso and other border communities along the U.S.-Mexico border. Culturally sensitive materials connect better with the audience and make the message more effective. So far students have responded well to previews of the teen dating violence video.

            The initiative also includes the creation of an interactive webpage and the development of a comprehensive curriculum that covers the dynamics of domestic/teen dating violence, as well as prevention and intervention resources available within the El Paso community. Some of the topics include access to law enforcement, safety planning, the use of protective orders, availability of shelter and counseling services, and criminal prosecution of offenders.

Presentation of the teen dating violence video and corresponding curriculum will be offered to all interested school districts in the El Paso area to comply with state legislation which went into effect May of 2007.  The legislation, found in Section 37.0831 of the Education Code, mandates the implementation of a dating violence policy to be included in each district's improvement plan.

Commenting on the importance of the project, District Attorney Jaime Esparza explained, "this important initiative will jumpstart the conversation across our community about the harm of violent relationships. We hope to help young people and adults alike, recognize the warning signs of abusive relationships and equip them with information on how they can get help if they become a victim of an abusive relationship or family violence," Esparza said.

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal said "the groundbreaking initiative is the first time the two prosecutors' offices in El Paso County have collaborated to create a domestic violence program that aims to ensure justice by proactively educating, deterring and preventing the occurrence of family violence before the need for prosecutorial intervention."

The County and District Attorneys' Offices will start scheduling presentations with local school districts on March 1, 2011. The interactive webpage will go live on the same date.

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Don't Let Yourself Press Release.pdf

Hot-Check Amnesty Period Extended One Week Due To Severe Weather

Individuals still have one week to pay and avoid publication of their names

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal announced today that, due to the winter storm that kept the County Courthouse closed since Wednesday, the amnesty period for hot check writers has been extended until Friday February 25, 2011.

Individuals who take advantage of the amnesty period and pay their outstanding balances before Friday, February 25, will avoid arrest during an upcoming countywide warrant round up. Additionally, they will save money by not having to pay additional fees such as court costs, attorney fees, and the cost of posting a bond.

The extension of the amnesty period includes one more week for individuals with outstanding warrants who want to avoid the publication of their names.

On Sunday February 13, 2011 the County Attorney's Office will make public the names and addresses of thousands of individuals with outstanding hot-check warrants. The list will be published on the County of El Paso's web site and other local media outlets. Additionally, the full list of names will be published in that Sunday's edition of Diario de El Paso.

Individuals with pending warrants who want to avoid the publication of their names must pay their outstanding balances by Friday, February 11, 2011.

Residents with outstanding hot check warrants can make their payments in person at the following locations:

El Paso County Courthouse

500 E. San Antonio, room 503

M- F 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

El Paso County Ysleta Annex

9521 Socorro Rd., Suite A-3

M - F 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Forms of payment accepted include credit cards, money orders, cashier checks, and cash; however, those paying with cash will have to bring the exact amount (cashiers cannot give change).

In addition, residents can make payments online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through "Hot Check E-pay," by visiting the El Paso County Attorney's Office web-page at www.epcounty.com/CA

For more information regarding hot check payments and balances please contact the El Paso County Attorney's Office Hot Check Unit at 546-2051 or visit the El Paso County Attorney's Office web site at: www.epcounty.com/CA.

There are currently more than 3,075 names in the County's hot checks warrants list who owe local merchants more than $2.76 million dollars. During last fiscal year (2009-2010) the Hot Check Unit collected more than $930,000 dollars in outstanding hot checks. So far, during the first 4 months of fiscal year 2010-2011 (October-January), the County Attorney's Office has collected over $270,000.

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal is encouraging individuals with outstanding warrants for writing hot checks to take advantage of this opportunity. In order to facilitate the payment of outstanding amounts, for the first time the County Attorney's Office will be accepting payment plans for qualifying individuals.

2011 Hot Check Warrant Amnesty Period Extended.pdf

2011 Hot Check Warrant Round-Up Calendar (media).pdf

2011 Hot-Check Warrant Amnesty Period And Roundup Announced

Arrest roundups to follow publication of the names

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal and El Paso County Sheriff Richard Wiles today announced that they will be joined by Constables from Precincts 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7 in conducting a roundup of individuals with outstanding hot check warrants in El Paso County.

This cooperative effort by local law enforcement to arrest hot check writers will be preceded by an amnesty period in which residents can pay their outstanding amounts without being arrested.

The amnesty period runs from Monday, February 7 through Friday, February 18, 2011. Before the amnesty period starts, the County Attorney's Office will make public the names and addresses of thousands of individuals with outstanding hot-check warrants. The list will be published on Sunday, February 6, 2011 on the County of El Paso's web-site and other local media outlets. Additionally, the full list of names will be published in that Sunday's edition of Diario de El Paso.

Individuals with pending warrants who want to avoid the publication of their names must pay their outstanding balances by Friday, February 4, 2011.

Individuals who take advantage of the amnesty period and pay their outstanding balances before Friday, February 18, 2011, will avoid arrest during an upcoming county-wide warrant round-up. Additionally, they will save money by not having to pay additional fees, such as court costs, attorney fees, and the cost of posting a bond.

Residents with outstanding hot check warrants can make their payments in person at the following locations:

El Paso County Courthouse

500 E. San Antonio, room 503

M- F  8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m.

El Paso County Ysleta Annex

9521 Socorro Rd., Suite A-3

M - F  8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m.

Forms of payment accepted include credit cards, money orders, cashier checks, and cash; however, those paying with cash will have to bring the exact amount (cashiers cannot give change).

In addition, residents can make payments online 24 hours a day, 7 days a week through "Hot Check E-pay," by visiting the El Paso County Attorney's Office web-page at www.epcounty.com/CA

For more information regarding hot check payments and balances please contact the El Paso County Attorney's Office Hot Check Unit at 546-2051 or visit the El Paso County Attorney's Office web site at: www.epcounty.com/CA.

There are currently more than 3,075 names in the County's hot checks warrants list who owe local merchants more than $2.76 million dollars. During last fiscal year (2009-2010) the Hot Check Unit collected more than $930,000 dollars in outstanding hot checks. So far, during the first 4 months of fiscal year 2010-2011 (October-January), the County Attorney's Office has collected over $270,000.

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal is encouraging individuals with outstanding warrants for writing hot checks to take advantage of this opportunity. In order to facilitate the payment of outstanding amounts, for the first time the County Attorney's Office will be accepting payment plans for qualifying individuals.

"The County Attorney's Office supports local small businesses by collecting their insufficient funds checks at no cost. We also want to make it easier for local residents who might have broken the law unintentionally to take care of their responsibilities before they face serious consequences. Hot check writers who do not seize this opportunity will be fully prosecuted for committing a criminal offense; this is their last chance." Bernal explained.

El Paso Sheriff Richard Wiles explained that after the amnesty period is over, officers from all participating law enforcement agencies will go out unannounced in search of those individuals with outstanding warrants who ignored this warning.

"Individuals who write worthless checks are in reality stealing money from the merchant who receives a check. Writing a hot check is a crime, not a civil violation, and my office is committed to fight all types of crimes. We are coordinating with all participating law enforcement agencies to conduct a very efficient county-wide warrant round-up. We will look for offenders anyplace they might be, at their homes, at their places of employment, with relatives," Wiles concluded. 

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2011 Hot Check Warrant List Publication Press Release.pdf

2011 Hot Check Warrant Round-Up Calendar (media).pdf

El Paso County Approves The Creation Of First Protective Order

Today 65th District Court Judge Yahara Lisa Gutierrez announced the creation of El Paso's first Protective Order Court dedicated exclusively to deal with victims of domestic violence. Judge Gutierrez received a $93,000 grant from the Office of the Governor of Texas to fund the creation of a county court dedicated exclusively to hear protective order cases.

The new Protective Order Court was approved today by the El Paso County Commissioners Court who assisted in the creation of the court by approving the use of a special family violence fund to pay for the salary of the judge of the Protective Order Court.

The new Protective Order Court will allow victims to have timely access to the courts on their application for protective orders. The court will provide a one stop venue for all issues involving the family during the duration of the protective order, including child support, custody of children and visitation issues.

The plan calls for the transfer of all protective order cases filed in each of the three family courts to the proposed "Protective Order Court," which will operate under the supervision of the 65th District Court. This consolidated approach will allow for a more efficient supervision of all protective order cases, and will allow the other family courts to dedicate more time to other types of family cases.

A single court will have the expertise and knowledge to deal with these very important cases.  Commissioner Anna Perez stated "This is an important day for victims of domestic violence in our community.  There will now be one single court where domestic violence victims will obtain expedited hearings."

65th District Court Yahara Lisa Gutierrez said the creation of a Protective Order Court would be a giant step forward in helping the victims of domestic violence in El Paso County. "I am grateful for the support of the Commissioners Court and the Governor's Office. There must be recognition by the community that no amount of violence is acceptable in El Paso."

# # #

Protective Order Court Press Release.pdf

County Attorney’s Office Employees Go Above And Beyond Their Duty To Serve The Community

During fiscal year that ended on September 30, 2010, employees of the El Paso County Attorney's Office volunteered to provide more than 700 hours of community service.

Volunteerism is part of a long tradition implemented by former County Attorney José R. Rodríguez and that continues under Jo Anne Bernal's administration. As part of that tradition both attorneys and staff members are encouraged to participate in community organizations, and to donate time and money to help El Paso residents.

This year the El Paso County Attorney's Office has had several outstanding examples of community service:

  • Assistant County Attorney Erich Morales is the Chair of the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure El Paso. Earlier this year received the "Promise of One" national award for his work with the organization. This is his 5th year serving in this position.
  • Assistant County Attorney Richard Deck is the current president of the local chapter of NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness).
  • Assistant County Attorney Tracy Almanzán is member of the board of directors of AVANCE El Paso and the Rio Grande Safe Communities Coalition.
  • Assistant County Attorney Marilyn Mungerson is member of the board of directors of the Child Crisis Center.
  • Assistant County Attorney Laura Christopherson is member of the board of the Advocacy Center for the Children of El Paso (ACCEP).
  • Assistant County Attorney Clinton Cross is member of the board of directors of Appleseed Texas.
  • Assistant County Attorney Cristina Viesca-Santos is member of the Board of directors of Keep El Paso Beautiful.
  • Assistant County Attorney Michael Wyatt is Vice-President of the board of the ACLU Texas.
  • Assistant County Attorney Bruce Yetter is member of the board of the Ronald McDonald House Charities of El Paso.
  • Assistant County Attorney Janet Montero is member of the board of S.T.A.R.S. (Sexual Trauma and Assault Response Services).
  • Assistant County Attorney Lucila Camarena is member of the board of the Center Against Family Violence.

Other members of the County Attorney's Office provided hundreds of hours of community service, from helping to paint rooms at the Center Against Family Violence, to collecting food and toys for needy families in the outskirts of the county.

In total, during fiscal year 2010, the employees of the El Paso County Attorney's Office participated in more than 600 office related events, and provided training to more than 40,000 individuals, including minors and adults.

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal said she is proud of the amount of community work performed by the employees of her office.

"The employees in the County Attorney's Office provide great legal services and community services through their community activities," said County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal.

"During this season of giving, I congratulate all of them for their efforts and commitment to public service," Bernal concluded.  

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CA Community Service Press Release.pdf

Jo Anne Bernal Elected Board Member Of The Texas District And County Attorneys Association

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal has been elected to the Board of Directors of the Texas District and County Attorneys Association (TDCAA) for the 2011 calendar year.

The results of the election, which took place on September 2010 in South Padre Island, were just announced by the TDCAA Journal on their November-December issue.  

The mission of TDCAA is "to promote the improvement of prosecution and government representation in the State of Texas, by providing educational and technical assistance to prosecutors and their staffs, by providing educational and technical assistance to the law enforcement community, and by serving as a legislative resource in criminal law and government representation matters."

            As member of the Board of Directors, El Paso County Attorney will be responsible for budget oversight of the organization, and long term planning and execution of the plan.

            Commenting on her appointment El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal said "It is important to have El Pasoans on state-wide boards and committees to ensure local concerns are heard on a statewide level."                    

            "I hope my participation on the board will address concerns about local prosecutorial issues, such as how to effectively prosecute juveniles who smuggle drugs across the border," Bernal concluded.         

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JAB TDCAA Board Press Release.pdf 

The Texas District and County Attorneys Association 2010.pdf 

Texas Attorney General Rules El Paso County Attorney Is Required To Give Legal Representation To The Ethics Commission

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal today announced that Texas Attorney General Greg Abbott has issued a legal opinion that confirms the El Paso County Ethics Commission must obtain legal advice from the El Paso County Attorney.

AG Opinion No. GA-0817, issued in response to a request submitted by the El Paso Ethics Commission on December 11, 2009, states that "the County Attorney of El Paso County is required to represent the El Paso County Ethics Commission in all legal maters."

The opinion goes further to affirm that "it could be an improper usurpation of the county attorney's authority...if outside legal counsel were hired solely to...represent the Commission over the objection of the county attorney."

Regarding the issue of whether the County Attorney has a conflict of interest in providing both legal advice and representation to the Commission, Attorney General Abbott deferred the answer to that question to the Texas Committee of Professional Ethics. The opinion also suggest that the El Paso County Ethics Commission may address any such concerns while drafting the ethics code, as long as the code does not contradict both Texas law and the Texas Disciplinary Rules of Professional Conduct.

El Paso County Attorney Jo Anne Bernal said the AG Opinion will put to rest the divisive issue.

"It has always been my professional opinion that the Ethics Commission should receive legal advice from the County Attorney's Office, which is responsible for advising all county officials," Bernal said.

"This opinion brings good news to El Paso taxpayers, because it confirms that the County of El Paso will not have to pay thousands of dollars in outside counsel fees for a job that our office can perform efficiently and effectively," Bernal concluded.

Members of the El Paso Ethics Commission have received copies of the AG Opinion, and will officially discuss accepting it during their next regular meeting scheduled for Thursday December 2, 2010 at 3:00 p.m. in the County Judge's Conference Room, 3rd floor of the County Courthouse.

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Ethics Commission Representation Press Release.pdf

AG Opinion GA-0817.pdf

AG Opinion Request 0847GA.pdf

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