Lawsuit Defendant Is Rep. Rick Green of Dripping Springs
|For Immediate Release:|
For More Information Contact:
|February 26, 2002|
Craig McDonald, 512-472-9770
Austin, TX: Texans for Public Justice (TPJ) filed a lawsuit today to force Texas lawmakers to publicly disclose any so-called “legislative continuances” that they have requested to delay court proceedings. Under state law, legislators who are attorneys can request an automatic delay in any state court proceeding scheduled around the time of a legislative session.
Citing the Texas Public Information Act in July 2001, TPJ wrote 62 state legislators who are Texas Bar Association members (50 representatives and 12 senators) to request information on any continuances that they had requested during the 1999 and 2001 legislative sessions. Just 14 attorney-legislators (23 percent) provided some information responsive to this request. TPJ received no responsive information from 48 of the 62 attorney-legislators (77 percent). Many legislators argued that they are not required to provide the requested information because it is not physically housed in their legislative offices.
The sole defendant in TPJ’s lawsuit, Rep. Rick Green (R-Dripping Springs), was the only legislator who said that he based his negative response on advice received from the Texas Attorney General’s Office. TPJ sued Rep. Green because the AG’s office has not issued a formal opinion on this matter and because TPJ believes that legislative continuance records are subject to the Texas Public Information Act. While the suit only names Rep. Green, the final ruling in this case will apply to every legislator.
TPJ’s lawsuit contends that—regardless of where they are kept—legislative continuance motions are subject to the Texas Public Information Act and must be disclosed to the public by legislators. The lawsuit argues that legislative continuance motions are public information by virtue of the fact that they are filed and granted solely on the basis of the requestor’s status as a public official. TPJ is not opposed to the fair use of legislative continuances but it recognizes that this legislative perquisite could be abused.
“Letting lawmakers get court delays on demand is a practice that is subject to abuse,” said TPJ Director Craig McDonald. “It is alarming that most lawmaker-attorneys refuse to disclose their continuances. It is one thing to give special powers to public officials. It is quite another to let them exercise those powers secretly.”
Under the Texas Civil Practices and Remedies Code §30.003, legislators who represent clients in state court during a legislative session or during the 30 days before or after a session may file for an automatic delay in the proceedings.
While each state court maintains public records of the legislative continuances that they grant, Texas has 411 state district courts alone, stretching from El Paso to Port Arthur. Savoring the scale of such an undertaking, Rep. Green wrote in his response, “If these records are available as public information through the courts, please feel free to spend your staff time and resources pursuing this information.”
TPJ has retained Philip Durst of Wiseman, Durst, Owen & Colvin, as its legal counsel. Mr. Durst (512/479-5017) filed the lawsuit in state district court in Austin. Typically, a party has approximately 25 days to answer from the time they are formally served with the lawsuit, which was requested today. A court ruling in such a case could be expected in four to six months. TPJ hopes that the case can be resolved as efficiently and expeditiously as possible, preferably before December 2002, when its lawsuit could be subject to legislative-continuance delays.