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Travis County DA faces removal attempt under Texas law targeting 'rogue' prosecutors

A person in a suit holding paper and talking into a microphone, in front of a backdrop of Jose Garza signs. Another person stands at left.
Michael Minasi
KUT News
District Attorney José Garza, accompanied by his wife Kate Garza, gives a victory speech at a election night party in March. A Travis County resident has filed a petition to remove the DA from office.

This story has been updated with a statement from Garza’s office.

A Travis County resident is seeking to remove progressive District Attorney José Garza from office using a 2023 Texas law aimed at limiting the discretion of locally elected prosecutors. A state district judge in Comal County on Friday appointed an attorney to represent Texas and pursue the case.

House Bill 17 took effect last September and allows courts to remove district attorneys for "official misconduct." That could include refusing to prosecute certain criminal offenses under state law, such as low-level marijuana possession.

When Gov. Greg Abbott signed the bill, the Republican leader said the goal of the law was to "hold rogue district attorneys accountable." The GOP priority legislation gained steam after progressive DAs, including Garza, said they would not prosecute people seeking abortions banned under Texas law.

However, elected district attorneys have significant prosecutorial discretion, meaning they get to decide which cases to pursue. As KUT previously reported, the law undermines this longtime convention.

Travis County resident Mary Dupuis filed a petition to remove Garza from office on April 8. The filing came just over a month after Garza won the March Democratic primary for district attorney in a landslide.

Dupuis' petition argues Garza must be removed from office "due to incompetency and official misconduct."

The petition alleges that misconduct includes "indiscriminately" pressing charges against law enforcement officials and presenting those cases to grand juries. The filing also argues Garza has refused to prosecute certain crimes, citing statements he has made on not pursuing abortion-related cases.

The petition concludes that "because [Garza's] conduct makes him unqualified to serve as district attorney, he should be removed from office."

This is not the first challenge Garza has faced under HB 17. Jason Salazar filed a petition to remove the DA from office last December. At the time, Garza's office was prosecuting Salazar for a felony drug charge. The criminal charge Salazar was facing disqualified him from seeking to remove the DA under the law.

Dupuis' petition is moving forward. In his order Friday, Judge Dib Waldrip, with the 433rd District Court in Comal County, stated Bell County Attorney Jim Nichols — who, like Waldrip, is a Republican — will litigate the case.

"The prosecuting attorney representing the state shall possess full authority under the law to proceed in the litigation as he and his office deem appropriate to bring this matter to a prompt and proper legal resolution," Waldrip wrote in the order.

Waldrip also ordered Garza to appear in a Travis County District courtroom on May 16.

Garza responded to the petition in a statement emailed to KUT on Saturday afternoon, saying that his office works every day to "bring justice to Travis County and keep people safe."

Garza also said in the statement that this attempt to remove him from office is politically-motivated and he expects it to fail.

Becky Fogel is the education reporter at KUT. Got a tip? Email her at Follow her on Twitter @beckyfogel.
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