News Column

El Paso Employees Want to See Steve Ortega's Tax Returns

May 7, 2013

Cindy Ramirez

Former El Paso Mayor Ray Salazar and several former city employees are asking to review city Rep. Steve Ortega's federal income tax returns for the past three years as a part of a lawsuit they filed against him, city Rep. Cortney Niland and City Manager Joyce Wilson in January.

The lawsuit stems from the city's plans to build a ballpark where the former City Hall building stood before it was demolished on April 14. Salazar and the group opposed the demolition of the building and argue that their voting rights were violated when the city didn't take the demolition decision to voters.

Paul Moreno, a former state legislator and attorney representing Salazar and the other plaintiffs, on Monday said he had no comment on the matter.

Ortega, who is running for mayor, was served with the subpoena on April 23 while he was on stage during a Coronado High School mayoral debate.

The subpoena asks that Ortega appear in Salazar's office on Wednesday for a deposition and to provide his federal income tax returns for 2010, 2011 and 2012. It doesn't indicate any motive for the request.

Attorneys for the city filed a motion on April 26 asking the court to quash the subpoena, which basically puts on hold the decisions of when, where or even whether Ortega will be deposed on the matter.

City Attorney Sylvia Borunda Firth said the state district judge on the case, Judge Stephen Ables, is out until Wednesday, and a hearing on the matter has not been

set.

In their request to quash the subpoena, the city attorneys argue the plaintiffs didn't properly serve it. The law firm that has been representing the city on the matter should have been notified of the discovery request and it should not have been given directly to Ortega, attorneys argue.

The case has been handled by the law firm of Denton, Navarro, Rocha and Bernal, which has represented the city and city officials on matters related to the Downtown ballpark and the demolition of the former City Hall building.

The attorneys also argue that Ortega's personal income tax records are "entirely irrelevant to the case at hand" and that any discovery requests are premature at this stage of the litigation.

They also state that Ortega and representatives from the Denton firm are not available to attend the deposition together on the day requested.

"I will comply with whatever the courts require of me," Ortega said, adding that the matter is up to the courts now. "I have nothing to hide."

Ortega said the latest move from the plaintiffs "amounts to a fishing expedition" and is "100 percent political."

"This is a group that has already been sanctioned and fined by a judge for these types of actions," Ortega said. "In evaluating this, people have to take into account the people making the complaint."

A federal judge in Austin in February sanctioned the group opposing the city for its "bad faith" conduct when it asked that the case be moved to federal court, delaying the city's attempt to have the courts clear the way for the ballpark and the sale of bonds associated with its financing.

The judge ruled the city could continue its bond validation suit in state court, but also fined the group $5,000. The judge said the group "engaged in bad-faith conduct designed to intentionally delay the adjudication of the three state court cases."

The other plaintiffs are Richard Najera, Julie Reynolds, Guillermo Acosta, Othon Medina and Jesus B. Ochoa Jr.

Two other lawsuits seeking to stop the demolition of the city building were consolidated into the bond validation suit, leaving only the Salazar/ Moreno suit pending.

Borunda Firth said Salazar and the other plaintiffs are seeking unspecified damages, and that the Denton firm is representing Ortega, Wilson and Niland in their capacities as city officials.

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(c)2013 the El Paso Times (El Paso, Texas)

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Source: Copyright El Paso Times (TX) 2013


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