Special Counsel Report: UT Regent May Have Broken Law

 

Report: UT Regent May Have Broken Law

Last week, a report concerning UT System regent Wallace Hall found its way to multiple statewide media outlets before being made public this week. The draft report, submitted to the Texas House of Representatives committee investigating Hall for potentially impeachable offenses, reinforced a number of narratives heard in testimony to the committee last fall, and introduced some new accusations. Moreover, the report suggests Hall may have broken state and federal law and finds grounds for the committee to call for his impeachment.

Houston attorney Rusty Hardin, counsel for the select committee on transparency in state agency operations, sent the report to the committee last Friday. In it, he and his team outline four items that could constitute grounds for impeachment.

Hall has been under investigation since last summer for alleged misconduct, including violations of regents rules and public trust, conducting burdensome, personal investigations of UT-Austin under the guise of his role on the UT System board, and purposefully withholding information from his application to become a regent.

The draft circulating since Tuesday acknowledges these charges and much more. Nolan Hicks, who broke the story for the San Antonio Express-News, reports:

The 176-page draft … alleges Hall leaked confidential student information in apparent violation of state and federal law in an attempt to silence critics in the Legislature. The report also accuses him of manipulating the House investigation and coercing witnesses.

It describes both activities as “particularly troubling and potentially criminal in nature,” and states that the leaks likely violated both the Family Education Rights and Privacy Act of 1974 and the Texas Public Information Act.

While potential violations of privacy statutes were discussed during the hearings last year, allegations of Hall attempting to coerce witnesses, possibly in violation of the committee’s own requests, is new to the report. The Texas Tribune‘s Reeve Hamilton explains:

Ironically, a substantial number of the actions that the Hardin report highlights as potentially triggering impeachment occurred in part or entirely because of the committee’s investigation.

One of the four items listed as a sufficient basis for the committee to propose articles of impeachment is Hall’s treatment of Powers, UT System chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, and UT-Austin chief financial officer Kevin Hegarty.

Hall sent emails to Cigarroa questioning the latter’s job performance because he did not impose consequences on Powers and Hegarty for what Hall believed to be inaccurate and even misleading testimony before the committee.

The committee had expressly asked that no negative employment actions be taken against anyone involved in their investigation. The Hardin report finds that Hall’s “pressure on those witnesses to alter testimony provided to the committee violated UT System policy and possibly the Texas Penal Code.”

Among the original areas of investigation, the motivation behind the massive record requests that sparked the probe are still a matter of debate, as the Dallas Morning News reports:

Hall’s critics have said he sought to oust UT-Austin president Bill Powers and micromanaged the university. Hall has countered that his massive requests for records were part of his job as a regent and he used them to try to improve the university’s open records system, among other things.

Hall never attended or testified at House meetings regarding his activities.

The Austin American-Statesman‘s Ralph Haurwitz outlined the four items the Hardin report considers possible impeachable actions:

The report said any one of four findings constitutes grounds for recommending impeachment: Hall’s requests for hundreds of thousands of pages of records from the Austin campus, his “improper use” of confidential student information, his actions toward Powers and other university officials, and his advocacy before a national standards-setting group against UT-Austin’s position on a fundraising dispute.

Overall, the report paints a bleak picture of Hall’s actions before, during, and after the committee’s inquiry. The panel’s eight members can now decide whether to recommend articles of impeachment—a rare step—to the full House, which could then vote to pass or not. If the full House does pass articles of impeachment, the Senate can still choose whether to take them up or not. If they to do so, the Senate would then conduct a trial.

On Tuesday, Hall’s lawyers countered that committee members are “engaged in a campaign to influence public impressions of Regent Hall for political purposes,” and questioned why one or several members leaked the report to the press. The Tribune summarizes:

[Hall attorney Stephen] Ryan requested that the committee provide Hall’s team with a copy of the report, which he said the committee failed to treat as an official work product that should have been reviewed carefully before being disseminated. He posits that the committee either “authorized selective dissemination of the draft report to deflect from its own failures, or cannot control its own processes.”

In Hardin’s report, Hall and his actions are described as being, among other things, “vindictive,” “bullying,” “blustery,” “myopic,” “mean-spirited,” “intense” and “malignant.”

Hall has said he was fulfilling his duties as a regent by looking into potentially questionable practices in the areas like admissions, fundraising, and open records issues.

You can read the full report below. Can’t see it it? Click here.

Editor’s Note: An earlier version of this article identified the report as the committee’s final product. In fact, it is a draft report submitted to the committee by its special counsel.

Investigative Report Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations

 

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