Texas AG, Annunciation House head to court again in battle for organization's documents

The legal battle between Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton and El Paso's Annunciation House continues Monday as the state targets the nonprofit Catholic organization's operation.

A hearing is set for 10 a.m. Monday, June 17, before 205th District Court Judge Francisco X. Dominguez to discuss motions filed in the case and the next steps in the lawsuit.

A key motion pending in the case is a motion for summary judgment — basically asking for the judge to rule if the case has merit to proceed to trial.

Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, speaks with attorney Robert Doggett and Jerome Wesevich, a lawyer with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid representing Annunciation House, after a motion hearing with Judge Francisco Dominguez in the 205th District Courtroom in El Paso, TX on Thursday, March 7, 2024.
Ruben Garcia, director of Annunciation House, speaks with attorney Robert Doggett and Jerome Wesevich, a lawyer with Texas RioGrande Legal Aid representing Annunciation House, after a motion hearing with Judge Francisco Dominguez in the 205th District Courtroom in El Paso, TX on Thursday, March 7, 2024.

Paxton and his attorney are demanding Annunciation House officials to turn over private information on the migrants the shelter has assisted after their release by federal immigration officials. Paxton called the Annunciation House a "stash house," alleging it provides illegal services to migrants and "facilitates astonishing horrors, including human smuggling."

Annunciation House officials and their attorneys filed a lawsuit against the Texas Attorney General's Office requesting a judge determine what documents, if any, the organization was legally required to turned over to the attorney general. The documents include names, dates of births, medical history, medications needed by the migrants, and the names of the migrants' family members.

More: Judge: Texas AG's office acted "unprofessionally" in request for Annunciation House records

The Texas Attorney General's Office did not respond to a request for comment on the upcoming hearing.

In a May 8 statement about the lawsuit, Paxson said, "Any NGO facilitating the unlawful entry of illegal aliens into Texas is undermining the rule of law and potentially jeopardizing the safety and wellbeing of our citizens. All NGOs who are complicit in Joe Biden’s illegal immigration catastrophe and think they are above the law should consider themselves on notice.”

Annunciation House attorney Jerome Wesevich declined to comment ahead of the hearing. A news conference is scheduled after Monday's hearing, he said.

Hearing held by video conference

The hearing will be held virtually and will be broadcast on the 205th District Court's YouTube page. It's being held by video conference to avoid security issues, courthouse officials said.

A March hearing in the case had heightened security measures in place at the Enrique Moreno County Courthouse in Downtown El Paso. The security measures included extra bailiffs and El Paso County Sheriff’s Office deputies inside and outside the courtroom. People attending the hearing had to go through two security checks — one at the entrance of the courthouse and another before entering the courtroom.

Paxton did not attend the March hearing.

Key players in Annunciation House document case

Ruben Garcia is the founder and director of the Annunciation House. He has run the nonprofit Catholic organization for more than four decades. Thousands of migrants have been aided by the Annunciation House since it was created. The organization aids migrants seeking asylum after they have been released from federal custody and wait for their court hearings on their petitions for asylum.

The Annunciation House provides various services to migrants, immigrants, and refugees in the El Paso area. The organization provides temporary shelter, legal services, food, medicine, donated clothes and connects migrants to family members they have in the U.S.

More: Texas Attorney General denied Annunciation House records until case is heard in court

Garcia and the Annunciation House have received praise for their humanities efforts from various world and U.S. leaders, including Pope Francis.

Wesevich is the lead attorney representing the Annunciation House in the lawsuit. He works with the Texas RioGrande Legal Aid, which provides free legal services to people who cannot afford an attorney.

Defense lawyers Ryan Baasch and Robb Fargoharson, representing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton before a motion hearing with Judge Francisco Dominguez in the 205th District Courtroom in El Paso, TX on Thursday, March 7, 2024.
Defense lawyers Ryan Baasch and Robb Fargoharson, representing Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton before a motion hearing with Judge Francisco Dominguez in the 205th District Courtroom in El Paso, TX on Thursday, March 7, 2024.

The Texas Attorney General's Office is being representing by several staff attorneys, including Ryan Baasch and Robbie Farquharson.

Baash is the chief of consumer protection for the Texas Attorney General's Office. He has worked with the AG's office since July 2023, according to his LinkedIn page. Farquharson is an assistant attorney general. He has been with the AG's office since December 2023, the Texas Tribune reported.

Judge Dominguez, a Democrat, is the presiding judge of the 205th District Court. He was first elected to the judicial seat in 2015. He has successfully won reelection several times, including in 2022. His term is set to end in 2026. He was a prominent El Paso civil rights leader and civil rights attorney for 20 years before taking the bench.

How we got this point

Paxton's efforts to shutdown the Annunciation House began in February when he sent three lawyers to the nonprofit demanding it turn over the documents on the migrants they have sheltered after being released from federal immigration custody.

Annunciation House officials declined to turn over the documents. Annunciation House attorneys then filed a lawsuit requesting a judge determine what documents, if any, the organization was legally required to turned over to Texas Attorney General's Office.

Paxton then filed a counter lawsuit claiming the Annunciation House was a "stash house" that provides illegal services to migrants.

More: Pope Francis calls Texas AG Ken Paxton's attacks on El Paso's Annunciation House 'madness'

In a March 7 hearing, Paxton's attorneys argued Annunciation House leaders had no valid argument not to turn over the documents since they had previously turned over this information when the organization applied for federal grants. The attorneys added the organization failed to show how turning over the documents was a violation of any constitutional rights.

Garcia testified during the March 7 hearing that he was worried turning over the documents could put the migrants in danger since the people and gangs they fled from in their home country could find them. He added turning over the documents could be “detrimental” to the Annunciation House by causing migrants to lose trust in the nonprofit organization.

Annunciation House is willing to turn over documents once a judge rules which documents must be released to the attorney general, Wesevich said at the March 7 hearing.

Paxton's motives in question

Judge Dominguez did not make a ruling during the March 7 hearing, but stated Paxton's actions were “unprofessional” and made with “ulterior political motives.”

On March 11, Dominguez ruled in favor of the Annunciation House stating the organization did not have to turn over any documents until the court makes a final ruling on which documents the organization, if any, must turn over to the Texas Attorney General's Office.

Judge Francisco Dominguez speaks during a motion hearing with in the 205th District Courtroom in El Paso, TX on Thursday, March 7, 2024.
Judge Francisco Dominguez speaks during a motion hearing with in the 205th District Courtroom in El Paso, TX on Thursday, March 7, 2024.

Dominguez again questioned the motives of Paxton in his March 11 ruling.

"The Attorney General's efforts to run roughshod over Annunciation House, without regard to due process or fair play, call into question the true motivation for the Attorney General's attempt to prevent Annunciation House from providing the humanitarian and social services that it provides," Dominguez said in his ruling.

Aaron Martinez may be reached at amartinez1@elpasotimes.com or on Twitter @AMartinezEPT.

This article originally appeared on El Paso Times: What to know about Texas AG, El Paso's Annunciation House legal battle

Advertisement