Longtime El Paso lawyer Roger Montoya said he is running for El Paso County district attorney, adding that he accepts responsibility for his criminal history and is building his campaign off of second chances
However, some are questioning the motives behind his campaign to replace outgoing District Attorney Jaime Esparza.
Montoya, who announced his candidacy July 20, joins a crowded race for the seat, which is already headlined by two prominent El Paso lawyers: El Paso County Assistant District Attorney James Montoya and criminal and family law attorney Yvonne Rosales.
Roger Montoya’s criminal background
Roger Montoya will enter the race with his criminal background being a main issue.
“All of the charges were misdemeanor charges at the level of conviction,” Roger Montoya said. “I have been convicted five times on misdemeanor charges. I pleaded guilty each time and accepted responsibility for my wrong actions. I served my sentences with dignity and grace.”
He was arrested several times, including two times each for discharging a firearm in a certain municipality and deadly conduct, according to court records.
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He pleaded guilty to all of the counts. The punishments ranged from two years of probation to 90 days in the El Paso County Jail.
He also was arrested on suspicion of driving while intoxicated last year, but the charge was dismissed in December.
Says mistakes make him better candidate
The mistakes of his past make him a more suitable candidate for district attorney as he knows what it is like to go through the criminal justice system both as a defendant and a lawyer, Roger Montoya said.
“I accepted responsibility for doing wrong things and I learned lessons from having been through the criminal justice system,” he said. “I gained perspective. It was a very humbling experience of being in jail, and I believe it is going to help me as district attorney by making me more of a humanitarian.”
He added, “I also believe it is going to help me because a lot of people perceive the current administration as thinking it has the type of people who are infallible. In other words, that they can’t be wrong. I know I can be wrong and I will have a listening ear when people tell me, ‘Roger Montoya, you are wrong and this is how and why.’ If it makes sense to me and is a logical thing, I will not have pride. I will have humility to admit when I am wrong.”
James Montoya said the convictions against Roger Montoya make him an unfit candidate for district attorney.
“Our community deserves a district attorney with a clean record,” James Montoya said. “Someone who has been convicted of threatening other citizens with deadly weapons on three separate occasions — and who was arrested for DWI last year — should not be our chief law enforcement official. How can we trust Roger to honestly prosecute the same crimes he’s committed?”
Shooting at house, road rage allegations
The first conviction of Roger Montoya stemmed from an April 16, 2008, incident in which he fired a gun at a home with people inside, according to a criminal complaint.
Roger Montoya pulled out the gun from his waistband, stated, “watch this,” and then fired two shots at the home, the complaint states. He then walked away from the home with the handgun.
He was sentenced to 15 months of probation after pleading guilty to one count of discharging a firearm in a certain municipality.
A second incident involved allegations of road rage. Roger Montoya was arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault and another count of discharging a firearm in a certain municipality in connection with the Dec. 22, 2011, incident.
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He allegedly threatened a person with a firearm, according to an indictment.
According to a complaint affidavit, Roger Montoya pulled out a handgun and waved it in the air at another driver after he became “angry at how people are uncourteous drivers,” the affidavit states.
He then went home and fired the weapon at a tree in his front yard.
Roger Montoya pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of deadly conduct on the aggravated assault charge. He also pleaded guilty to the discharging a firearm in a certain municipality.
He was sentenced to 24 months of probation, according to a judgment of conviction document filed in district court.
Roger Montoya was again arrested on suspicion of aggravated assault and criminal mischief in connection with a July 9, 2013, incident in which he allegedly pulled out a hammer with the intent to cause bodily harm and used the hammer to destroy a computer, according to a complaint affidavit.
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He pleaded guilty to lesser charge of deadly conduct on the aggravated assault count and was sentenced to two years of probation.
Roger Montoya also pleaded guilty to the criminal mischief charge and was sentenced to 90 days in jail, court records show.
The last alleged criminal offense against Roger Montoya was a driving while intoxicated arrest May 25.
He was arrested after El Paso Police Department officers allegedly saw him swerving on the road at about 10:15 p.m. in the 9100 block of Viscount Boulevard, almost hitting a median, an affidavit states.
According to a motion to dismiss, the driving while intoxicated charge against Roger Montoya was dropped after key evidence was suppressed from being used in his trial. Court documents do not state what evidence was dismissed.
Connections with Rosales’ campaign
Roger Montoya was a big supporter of Rosales when she first ran for district attorney against incumbent Esparza in 2016.
According to Rosales’ campaign finance reports filed in July, Roger Montoya donated $50 to her 2020 campaign. He also served on her campaign’s host committee in June.
In a January 2016 campaign finance report filed by Rosales, Roger Montoya donated $100.
Through his law office, Roger Montoya donated $100 and $500 to Rosales’ 2016 campaign, according to her May 2016 campaign finance reports. He also gave her campaign a $216 in-kind donation.
“I supported her in the last election when she was running against Jaime Esparza because I genuinely believed that after 24 years that the people of this community — El Paso, Hudspeth and Culberson counties — really deserved to have a change in administration,” Roger Montoya said. “That’s why I supported the candidacy of Ms. Rosales. I genuinely believed because she had the courage to step up and challenge a person who had been firmly entrenched in their office, I believe she deserved my support.”
Now, he said, he believes he is the best candidate for district attorney as opposed to Rosales.
“I want to serve this community,” Roger Montoya said. “The voters deserve to have more than one or two choices on the ballot. If elected, I will serve this community well. I have 20 years of experience as an attorney and have tried 85 jury trials. I don’t want my candidacy to be a criticism or denunciation of Ms. Rosales.”
Rosales said that she believes Roger Montoya is now running for district attorney due to Esparza’s retirement and the differences she and Roger Montoya have on various issues.
“Yes, he was one of my backers and I appreciate the support he gave me back in the original race,” Rosales said. “When Esparza decided to announce his retirement, I guess that is when Mr. Roger Montoya decided he want to enter the race himself. I think over the years we had been discussing some of the policies and things I wanted to change. I guess we just had a difference of opinion on how certain things and programs needed to be changed and what different policies and procedures needed to be implemented.”
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Rosales said that she did not have any direct conversation with Roger Montoya about his run for district attorney, but he had told her he was considering running for the seat.
“When Mr. Esparza announced he was retiring, I was fully expecting for many people to take the opportunity to run,” Rosales said. “Nobody else wanted to challenge him before in the past, so I knew it was a likelihood that several people would enter the race.”
The connection between Roger Montoya and Rosales span more than just campaign financial support. The pair were a romantic couple more than 17 years ago.
Roger Montoya said his decision to run had nothing to do with his previous relationship with Rosales. She also said that any past connection to Roger Montoya had nothing to do with the race for district attorney and should not be brought up in the race.
“I think bringing that up is more tabloid material,” Rosales said. “It has nothing to do with the race.”
James Montoya called into question the validity of Roger Montoya’s motives and his connections with Rosales.
“Roger is completely unqualified to be this community’s district attorney and I believe his entire candidacy is a deliberate attempt by my opponents to confuse voters at the ballot box,” James Montoya said. “I find it suspect that Roger was part of Ms. Rosales’ campaign committee and donated to her as recently as last month — either Roger has totally lost confidence in her or something fishy is going on.”
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There are fears that having two Montoyas on the ballot could cause voters to be confused and split the votes between both men, which would potentially benefit Rosales.
“Frankly, these types of games show how little my opponents think of voters,” James Montoya said. “I am confident that this community will see through Roger’s charade of a candidacy. I look forward to knocking on as many doors as possible and showing that there is only one competent, honest, and professional Montoya and that’s me.”
Roger Montoya said he is not concerned over any confusion and will focus his campaign on getting his name out to the community.
“It is a potential problem,” Roger Montoya said. “But it is one that I spotted even before I announced. I am going to be dealing with that by making sure everybody knows the difference between Roger and James. As long as people know the difference of James, who is only a six-year attorney for the DA’s office, and Roger, who has 20 years experience, the voters will get it straight.”
Campaign to focus on criminal justice reform
One of the many focuses of his campaign will be criminal justice reform and providing a second chance for defendants to get their lives back on track, Roger Montoya said.
“Getting a second chance is one of the most important realizations that is being made throughout the criminal justice system,” Roger Montoya said. “Criminal justice reform is a huge movement right now. The momentum in the criminal justice reform movement right now is toward more leniency.”
Roger Montoya said that wants to bring a balance of being tough on crime while showing mercy to defendants who need a second chance.
“I want to be part of the criminal justice reform system that brings justice and mercy together,” Roger Montoya said. “We have to have balance. I know most of my opponents will be talking about being tough on crime. And of course, that is part of being the district attorney. You have to be tough when necessary, but you have to be tempered with justice and mercy.”
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Roger Montoya graduated from Cathedral High School and went on to attend the University of Notre Dame. He earned his law degree from the University of Texas at Austin.
He has been practicing criminal law for more than 20 years, including a stint from 1999 to 2002 as an assistant district attorney for the El Paso County District Attorney’s Office.
Aaron Martinez may be reached at 546-6249; firstname.lastname@example.org; @AMartinezEPT on Twitter.