Regent Investigation Continues; Long Hot Summer to Come

Regent Investigation Continues; Long Hot Summer to Come

The special Texas House committee charged with the investigation of UT System Regent Wallace Hall met Wednesday to discuss procedures and begin drafting suggested articles of impeachment. If passed by the committee, those articles would move to the full House, which could then pass them over to the Senate for a trial. If impeached, Hall will be only the third official in state history, and the first gubernatorial-appointee.

Since last fall, the committee on transparency in state agency operations has looked into Hall’s behavior on the UT governing board to discern whether the regent was conducting a “witch hunt” against UT-Austin president Bill Powers, and whether his actions, including massive, unprecedented document requests, violated state or federal statues. Last month, committee counsel and Houston attorney Rusty Hardin produced a report outlining four potential grounds for impeachment. Last week, the committee voted that grounds do exist. Now they begin the work of drafting the articles of impeachment.

“Regent Hall could simply put an end to this by resigning, but he’s chosen not to,” committee co-chair Carol Alvarado (D-Houston) told reporters after the public session adjourned. “So we have a job to continue to do.”

The suggestion that Hall step down hasn’t just come from legislators, either. At a regents’ meeting last week, Chairman Paul Foster directly asked Hall to step aside, though he noted that Hall had not violated board or System rules.

“Something must change,” Foster said to Hall. “And I urge you to take the selfless step for the benefit of the UT System and to resign.”

In a letter released Tuesday by his attorney, Allan Van Fleet, Hall refused to go, writing that Foster’s public request for Hall’s resignation was “shameless” and “underhanded.” The letter also accused Foster of allowing a “small group of legislators to interfere in the Board’s official operations.”

Hall has continuously defended his actions, saying he is looking to improve transparency and accountability at UT. He has repeatedly alleged that lawmakers have used undue influence to affect admissions at UT-Austin, and particularly at the UT School of Law. Last week, the System published a report which found that letters of recommendation from legislators may have carried extra weight in admissions. Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa has announced that he will conduct a broader inquiry into admissions processes System-wide.

Dan Flynn (R-Van), co-chair of the House committee, expressed satisfaction with the rules changes Wednesday, saying he was “impressed” with Foster’s efforts.

Hall also faces investigation by the Travis County Attorney and District Attorney’s offices. The latter houses the state’s Public Integrity Unit (PIU), which is looking into allegations raised in the committee’s probe that Hall illegally shared private student information with his attorneys.

Throughout the process, which looks now like it could last through the summer, Hall has refused to testify to the committee, instead speaking through lawyers and surrogates.

He has remained politically active, however, recently making a $25,000 donation to attorney general candidate Ken Paxton according to the Austin American-Statesman. Paxton faces House higher education committee chairman Dan Branch in next week’s GOP primary runoff.

A political action committee which has actively backed Hall, Michael Quinn Sullivan’s Empower Texans PAC, has also donated to two members of the committee investigating Hall: Flynn and Rep. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock). Perry was the sole vote against grounds for Hall’s impeachment.

Even in recent days, Hall’s name has crossed the lips of some current candidates. Lt. Gov. candidate Dan Patrick defended Hall in a Tea Party-sponsored debate with opponent and current Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst, who has openly criticized Hall.

“I’m glad that Wallace Hall is not resigning,” Patrick said, according to the Austin American-Statesman.

On Wednesday, Hall donated $10,000 to Patrick’s campaign, according to filings with the Texas Ethics Commission. This is in addition to a $15,000 donation Hall made to Patrick in late April.

Shortly after the committee went into an executive session to draft potential articles of impeachment, Gov. Perry also issued a statement in support of Hall.

“Texans should be outraged by his treatment, and deeply concerned it will have a chilling effect on those who are tasked with the oversight of state agencies and institutions that they are responsible for,” the Governor’s aides wrote.

The committee has not set a date for its next meeting, but said it would continuing working on its proposed articles.

Above: Co-Chairs Flynn and Alvarado.


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