Crass Action

Gabi Canales, Democrat, Alice, 28

What a dismal story this is. A young lawyer gets elected to the House, and even before she is sworn in, she cashes in, using a legal but long-discredited stratagem available only to legislator-lawyers: the legislative continuance. State law provides that lawmakers with pending cases can ask for a delay until after the 140-day session is over, and judges have no choice but to grant it. The device has long been criticized as allowing legislator-lawyers to rent themselves out to anyone who wants to delay a lawsuit. Gabi Canales, whose law practice involved mainly family matters and criminal cases, was hired by Wyeth, a maker of the diet drug fen-phen, to help defend the company against major lawsuits filed in Texas. With her on board, the trials had to be postponed.

Legislative continuances often fly under the radar, but—unluckily for Canales—not this time. Texans for Public Justice, an Austin-based watchdog group, asked her and two other legislators to disclose the continuances they had sought; the other two complied, but she didn't. TPJ then sued her to force disclosure (the suit is still pending). A state appellate court ruled that Wyeth's legal team had "engaged in, at the very least, questionable conduct by using the tactical advantage the legislative continuance provides," but it was powerless to prevent the delay.

Another Canales continuance also raised eyebrows. Not only did her participation delay the trial, but it also forced the recusal of the trial judge—her father, Terry Canales, who had been overseeing the case for two years. Longtime connoisseurs of the Best and the Worst list may recall the elder Canales as the "Unidentified Flying Object" of the 1975 session; as a sophomore legislator, he missed all but three roll calls from January to mid-March, and when he finally showed up, we wrote, "the Speaker asked to see the credentials of this 'stranger in our midst.'" At least that was humorous. His daughter's antics were not. She besmirched the body, brought opprobrium upon it, and gave a cynical public one more reason to loathe politics. That is the surest way to get on the Worst list.

Tags: POLITICS

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