Lawsuit to require Canales
to comply with Texas Public Information Act
|For Immediate Release:|
For More Information Contact:
|April 4, 2003|
Craig McDonald, 512-472-9770
Austin, TX: Texans for Public Justice (TPJ) filed a lawsuit today to require State Representative Gabi Canales (D-Alice) to comply with the Texas Public Information Act (TPIA) and fully disclose all of the so-called “legislative continuances” that she has sought to delay state 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 TPIA in a February 11, 2003 letter, TPJ asked three state legislators to publicly disclose all the continuances that they have sought since November 2002. Media reports had indicated that the three legislators had sought a total of at least six continuances this session to delay lawsuits against companies that marketed dangerous drugs see TPJ's Lobby Watch. While two of the legislators, Reps. Aaron Pena (D-Edinburg) and Ruben Hope (R-Conroe), provided the requested information, Rep. Canales refused to do so, saying “there are no records in this office that meet your request.”
Media reports indicate that Rep. Canales, working for the drug giant Wyeth, has claimed continuances to delay at least three lawsuits filed by victims of the now withdrawn diet drug fen-phen. That drug exposed millions of consumers to elevated risks of heart and lung failure. While Rep. Canales is known to have sought delays in these three cases, TPJ used the TPIA to determine if she had delayed any additional lawsuits. TPJ filed suit after Rep. Canales rebuked its request. TPJ filed a similar lawsuit in February 2002 against then-Rep. Rick Green, who initially refused to publicly disclose his continuances. TPJ settled that lawsuit two months later, when Rep. Green agreed to make the requested disclosure.
“Rep. Canales’ use of the legislative continuance appears to be an abuse of her privilege,” said TPJ Director Craig McDonald. “The public has a right-to-know how often she’s used the privilege and how much she’s being paid to delay these cases. It is alarming that some 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.”
While the suit only names Rep. Canales, the Court’s ruling may apply to every legislator. TPJ’s lawsuit contends that—regardless of where they are kept—legislative continuance records are subject to the TPIA and must be disclosed by legislators by virtue of the fact that they are filed and granted solely on the basis of the requestor’s status as a public official.
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. Several bills have been introduced in the current legislature to reform or end the practice of automatic continuances, including HB 1606 by Steve Wolens (D-Dallas).
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.
* View the original petition.
* View the letter sent to Canales.