A Texas district court judge in El Paso faces possible removal from the bench following allegations of bias and an improper in-chambers hearing during a 2019 murder trial. The judge is reportedly refusing to respond to a written inquiry from the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct.
168th District Court Judge Marcos Lizarraga is under investigation for his handling of a murder trial in 2019, KVIA ABC 7 reported. The judge granted a mistrial in a case where Moises Galvan is accused of murdering Rogelio “RJ” Franco outside a bar in January 2017.
Lizarraga granted the mistrial after he claimed prosecutors asked Galvan an improper question when he took the stand in his own defense, the local ABC affiliate reported.
In May 2019, KFOX14 in El Paso reported:
According to the court docket, the court found the prosecutor asked an improper question and purposefully asked the objectionable question in front of the jury, and the question permanently prejudiced the jury on a “key linchpin fact issue in the case” and the prejudice cannot be overcome.
Lizarraga found the objectionable question to include statements that have no evidentiary foundation to be allowed as evidence on hearsay or as an exception to the hearsay rule. Lizarraga granted the defense’s motion for a mistrial on that basis.
The District Attorney’s Office objected to the mistrial, saying they believed the information presented was “relevant and important for the jury.”
At the time, Lizarraga stated, “The state’s attorney purposefully asked the objectionable question in front of the jury,” and “the audible, discernible question has permanently prejudiced the jury on a key linchpin fact issued in the case,” KTSM NBC9 reported.
Court records obtained by KVIA reveal Lizarraga is accused of bias against the prosecution and in favor of the defense. The records also report an alleged improper in-chambers hearing.
The commission contacted the judge in May 2021. The letter from the commission asked the judge to respond in writing by June 7, 2021. The judge, who appeared in person before the commission in October 2021. However, he has yet to provide a written response to the commission’s letter of inquiry.
At the time of the dismissal, the prosecutors said they were prepared to retry the case. The court set the case for trial in August 2019 and again in January 2020. The case remains in limbo at this time.
Judge Lizarraga, a Democrat, first took office in 2014, according to Ballotpedia. His current term runs through the end of this year.