Thursday, November 10, 2005

Legal maneuvers

Maybe you courtroom junkies are familiar with the concept of legislative continuance. That’s when a lawyer who’s also a legislator asks the judge to delay the trial he’s working on while the Texas Legislature’s in session.

The idea comes from the fact that our state representatives and senators are part-time legislators (they do less damage that way) with actual careers. It wouldn't be fair to their clients if they had to drop a case while the Lege is in session, and it wouldn't be fair to their constituents if they ignored their lawmaking duties because of a court date.


It's subject to abuse. It leads to what Public Citizen 's Texas office once called "rent-a-legislator." Some defendants end up hiring a state lawmaker while the Lege is in session just to drag out the trial. It's usually a large corporation defending a personal injury lawsuit.

Of course, they say it's purely for the legislator's legal expertise. The fact that the lawyer/lawmaker immediately files for a legislative continuance is purely coincidental.

State Sen. Juan "Chuy" Hinojosa did this in January in a lawsuit against Vioxx, then withdrew the motion, claiming it sprang from a miscommunication.

Well, state Rep. Jim Solis did the same thing, back in April, defending a lawsuit against Ford. The trial judge even rejected the continuance, as did the appeals court, but the Texas Supreme Court upheld the motion, and the trial didn't start until October. Meanwhile, there's a paralyzed woman in need of medical care.

Funny thing -- Solis never showed up for that trial, which ended in a settlement earlier this week. In fact, the plaintiff’s attorneys in that case filed a motion for sanction against the representative. According to the court document:
Although both Solis and Ford Motor Company argued that his retention in the case was not for the sole purpose of delay, the course of litigation both before, and subsequent to Solis’ appearance contradicts these statements. ...

Apart from making an appearance and immediately seeking a continuance on the basis of his appearance, Rep. Solis did not appear prior to or subsequent to this written “appearance.” ...

... Rep. Solis did not draft or sign any motions, pleadings, or correspondence, nor did he respond to any correspondence on behalf of Ford.

Solis told the Spanish-language newspaper RUMBO (and this is an approximate translation) that the law does not require the legislator/litigator to be present in court, just to take part in the process.

C'mon, folks. If it walks like a duck, looks like a duck and sounds like a duck ...


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