Wallace Hall impeachment trial

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University of Texas Investigations

Background
Wallace Hall impeachment trialPolitical favoritism in admissions to the University of TexasForgivable loans program at the University of Texas Law School House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations (TSAO)Joint Committee on Oversight of Higher Ed Governance, Excellence & Transparency

UT Regents
Wallace HallPaul FosterEugene PowellSteven HicksErnest AlisedaJeffery HildebrandBrenda PejovichAlex CranbergRobert Stillwell

Elected Officials
Rick PerryJoe StrausCharles PerryTrey FischerDan FlynnNaomi GonzalezEric JohnsonLyle LarsonCarol AlvaradoFour PriceJim PittsDan Branch

UT Individuals
Bill PowersLarry SagerBarry BurgdorfKevin HegartyFrancisco CigarroaCarol Longoria

Contents

Texas state legislators are exploring an unprecedented legal step -- impeaching an appointed official. University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall, who was named to the post by Governor Rick Perry, is the subject of an investigation by a Texas state house committee. Legislators who are in favor of the impeachment process initially set out to investigate whether Hall failed to disclose information on his regent application, revealed protected information about students and exceeded his role as a regent in requesting massive amounts of information.

Only two elected officials in the history of Texas have ever been successfully impeached.[1]

Governor Rick Perry and others have strongly criticized the attempted impeachment. Critics says it is an effort to criminalize policy differences. In late November 2013, Perry and State House Speaker Joe Straus sent letters to gubernatorial appointees to address the impeachment trial. Perry's letter explained the importance of oversight of state agencies by gubernatorial appointees. In his letter, Straus agreed with Perry and wrote, "Both board members and the Legislature need to ask difficult questions."[2][3][4][5][6]

A January 2014 review by the law firm Hilder & Associates concluded that there was "no credible evidence of a violation of [the state government code] that would warrant a referral for criminal prosecution" regarding Hall's actions. The Board of Regents hired the firm to review whether Hall may have violated any federal privacy laws in his handling of student information. November 2013 testimony prompted committee-member Trey Fischer to request the inquiry.[7][8]

The impeachment investigation is being conducted by the Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations. That committee can recommend to the full state house that articles of impeachment be drafted. If the select committee does make that recommendation, the state house would then have to follow a set of procedures for calling a special session to consider impeachment. The State Legislature would have to be called into a special session because the legislature meets in the spring of odd-numbered years.[9]

Recent events

In early April 2014 it was hinted that the final reports would be forthcoming. On April 7, 2014, the report was leaked to the media under the condition that it not be released in its entirety. The full draft report from Rusty Hardin was released shortly thereafter. A committee meeting took place on April 24, 2014 to "consider ongoing business," related to the draft report. Following the report's release, Hardin stressed that the report did not accuse Hall of breaking any laws.[10][11] Lawmakers held a vote on May 12, 2014 on whether to recommend impeachment and removal. By a 7-1 margin the committee voted that Hall's actions were grounds for impeachment. The vote did not formally sanction Hall nor did it impeach him. The decision means the legislative committee will begin drafting formal impeachment recommendations which must be voted upon by the committee later in July.[12][13] Committee co-chair Carol Alvarado (D) said the process to draft impeachment articles will likely take months, likely extending the process into summer 2014 before a conclusion is reached. The next scheduled meeting is July 2014. Following the May meetings, Hall's critics called on him to resign. Hall indicated that he would not resign.[14][15] On July 2, 2014, legislators delayed the meeting to consider articles of impeachment, citing the reason that too many committee members would not be in Austin.[16]

The Wall Street Journal published an overview of the trial on June 15, 2014.[17] The Texas Tribune publicized a three-part report regarding state legislators and the UT-Austin admissions process. That feature was also published in the New York Times on June 26, 2014.[18][19][20][21]

In July 2014, University Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa asked University of Texas, Austin President Bill Powers to resign or face termination at the July 10 University of Texas Board of Regents meeting. Powers at first indicated he would not resign.[22] However, on July 9, 2014, Cigarroa released a statement that Powers agreed to resign effective June 2015.[23] The Board meeting agenda indicates regents will discuss Powers in an executive session.[24][25] Some legislators on the transparency committee sent a letter requesting that the Board of Regents delay any personnel decisions regarding Powers or other witnesses from the impeachment hearings.[26]

Background

University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall is being investigated by a Texas committee.

After he was appointed in 2011, Wallace Hall began looking into what he believed to be clout scandals within the University of Texas system. Hall investigated the university's forgivable-loans program and admissions policies and preferential treatment to politically-connected individuals.[27] Hall, as an individual citizen, filed a large number of public information requests with the University system. Hall also filed requests as a regent. Governor Rick Perry and University of Texas President Bill Powers have differed on education issues, specifically tuition, graduation rates, teacher roles and research.[28]

Hall's FOIA requests

According to his accusers, Hall's requests totaled more than 800,000 pages. This figure has been disputed. A letter from University chancellor Francisco Cigarroa in February 2014 said that Hall likely requested fewer than 100,000 pages.[29][30]

Hall was granted access to 40 boxes of materials relating to prior university investigations.[31] In addition, he sought copies of all open records from January 2011 to November 2012. During that time, the university received 2,500 open records requests.[32] In addition, Cigarroa wrote: "During testimony before the Select Committee, some early witnesses implied that the U.T. System has not protected the privacy rights of students, staff, and patients. This is simply not true."[33]

Hall has been accused of overstepping his authority in making demands on the University of Texas, Austin staff. Specifically, the allegations surround possible mishandling of private student information and providing inadequate information on his application to be a regent.[34] Carol Longoria, University of Texas, Austin Public Information Officer, said she was concerned about Hall's possible access to private data via the records requests. "I don’t think the requests were reasonable, but reasonable was just the tip of the iceberg for me," she said.[35][36]

Push for impeachment

An effort was begun in June 2013 to try and impeach Hall from his position as Regent. Some legislators are justifying the impeachment on the grounds that Hall did not disclose several lawsuits that he was involved in when he originally completed his Regent background check. Hall updated Governor Rick Perry's office in April 2013 with the full list.[37][38] The lack of lawsuit disclosure by Hall is not unique -- more than 9,000 lawsuits were not disclosed by other appointed Texas officials.[39] No unelected official in Texas has ever been successfully impeached or removed from office.[40] Governor of Texas Rick Perry's spokesperson said the investigations send a "chilling message" to gubernatorial appointees.[41] On June 24, 2013, State House representative Jim Pitts (R) filed a resolution to advance along impeachment proceedings of Hall by the select committee.[42] However, Joe Straus, House Speaker, issued a proclamation that expanded the committee's jurisdiction to allow it to propose articles of impeachment against executive appointees.

In July 2013, University of Texas Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and Regent Eugene Powell responded to the ongoing investigation and negative remarks against Hall from some elected officials and University of Texas staff. Cigarroa said Hall was not allowed to access anything that was not reviewed by University lawyers to ensure they met federal privacy standards. In a July 15, 2013 letter to state representative Jim Pitts, Powell wrote: "Regent Hall's efforts extend to bringing the U.T. System into a competitive position nationally; especially related to offering blended and online learning opportunities to U.T. students. I would point out Regent Hall's excellent service to the Board in terms of time and energy. I appreciate his Board service and his dedication and hard work designed to fulfill his fiduciary obligations."[43][44]

Prior records requests

On August 5, 2013, Kevin Hegarty, chief financial officer for the University of Texas, Austin, announced that the records requests from Hall would be canceled immediately.[45] In August 2013, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa recommended a "targeted compliance review" of how officials at the University of Texas, Austin were handling public records requests. In August 2013, the University of Texas System Board of Regents approved two measures to reform problems that Hall had discovered in his investigations. The regents voted to enact a new policy regarding the relationship between universities and foundations. Additionally, the regents approved an audit into how officials respond to public information requests.[46] The University of Texas is required to seek approval from Attorney General of Texas Greg Abbott regarding whether information could be kept confidential from a records request. The process often takes months to complete. In 2008, University of Texas, Austin referred one request to Abbott's office. In 2013, it referred 84 different requests, according to the Dallas Morning News. Hegarty said that the university reviews requests prior to seeking an opinion from the attorney general. Hall was not the only government official sending large records requests to the university. In 2013, Judith Zaffirini requested more than 30,000 pages of records.[47]

Political favoritism in admissions

See also: Political favoritism in admissions to the University of Texas

One of the primary issues surrounding the Wallace Hall impeachment was the issue of clout and favoritism in the admissions process in the higher education system of Texas. According to a report by Texas Watchdog in December 2013, Jeffrey Steven Carona, Carlos Manuel Zaffirini Jr. and James Ryan Pitts, all three children of Texas lawmakers at the center of the political favoritism scandal at the University of Texas, repeatedly failed the state's bar exam after graduating from the University of Texas School of Law, which is the highest ranked law school in Texas and placed at number 15 nationally. The University of Texas School of Law is known for preparing its students to pass the Texas bar exam. Out of the eight years prior to 2013, only 197 students out of 2,700 had to retake it, giving it a fail rate of just over seven percent. Additionally, the pass rate for all Texas law school graduates who took the exam in July 2013 was 88.74 percent, a rate much higher than most states. However, Carona, Zaffirini and Pitts, sons of state Senator John Carona (R), state Senator Judith Zaffirini (D) and state Representative Jim Pitts (R) respectively, had to take the bar 10 times between them, with only two eventually passing, leaving some doubt as to whether they should have been admitted to law school in the first place. State Representative Pitts, current chairman of the House Appropriations Committee, admitted to writing to University of Texas President Bill Powers on his son's behalf, and State Senator Zaffirini is considered the most influential voice on public universities in the Texas State Legislature, having previously chaired the Senate Higher Education Committee for four years as a Democrat despite Republicans holding the majority. State Senator Carona has donated over $30,000 to Zaffirini's campaigns in recent years.[48]

Michael Quinn Sullivan, CEO of Empower Texans, described the clout investigations as a driving issue in the state of Texas.[49]

Over the past year Texans have started to become aware of the apparent clout-abuse gripping higher education. Serious allegations have been leveled that unqualified individuals got seats in our prestigious university programs through their parents' political relationships and positions. Rather than investigate the corruption, the self-serving establishment has attacked the whistleblower. It's our job as citizens to root out those who serve themselves at the people's expense through the agencies of our government.[50]

—Michael Quinn Sullivan, http://www.dallasnews.com/opinion/sunday-commentary/20140314-qa-michael-quinn-sullivan-of-empower-texans.ece

In November 2013 it was revealed that one of the letters Hall subpoenaed was sent by State Senator Zaffirini to University of Texas Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa. According to a public records request filed by Watchdog.org, the letter was sent on December 3, 2010 to Cigarroa on behalf of an applicant to the University of Texas School of Law. In his response, Cigarroa wrote, "I will convey your strong recommendation to President Bill Powers. I can assure you that he will receive careful consideration." The standard process is to send letters recommending applicants to the Law School Admissions Council.[51]

Lawmakers writing on behalf of students

In February 2014, the Texas Tribune released a PDF of an email from Judith Zaffirini to University of Texas President Bill Powers. In this email, Zaffirini first mentioned how much funding her committee had acquired for the university before shifting gears to the topic of a student's application.[52][53] She wrote:

Senator Eltife asked me yesterday what was the appropriate way to recommend [name redacted] for co-enrollment at UT. [Name redacted] is a family friend of his who wasn’t admitted, but hopes to be admitted by way of co-enrollment. (I sent the information to you earlier.) Is this the best alternative, or are there others?"[54][50]

In response Zaffirini said "if this is what they’re citing, it’s ridiculous." The email was in reference to State Senator Kevin Eltife, who asked Zaffirini for guidance on how to best recommend a student for admission.[53] In another email written on October 15, 2012, Zaffirini sent an email to Powers and University Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, recommending a student for admission.[55]

Watchdog.org investigation

In May 2014, reporters at Watchdog.org released a report detailing alleged situations where admitted students with typically lower-than-acceptable credentials had connections to politicians or elected officials. One issue that prompted the study was the February 2014 Bar Exam results. The University of Texas Law School is the highest rated school in the state. But in February 2014, only 59 percent of its students passed the bar, which was the worst rate in the state. Watchdog.org analyzed the state's bar exam pass rates from 2006-2013. During that time, roughly 2,700 students took the bar and only 197 needed to re-take the exam. Only 29 individuals failed the bar at least three times, with 13 of those names being isolated by the Watchdog investigation as potentially having political connections.[56]

The following points were summarized in the article.[56]

  • 90 UT Law students failed the bar twice or more
  • 15 students appeared to be politically connected in some way
  • 12 students had ties to Judith Zaffirini, who previously admitted to specifically recommending certain individuals for acceptance to the school.
  • Six students had connections to Joe Straus, Texas State Speaker, or individuals/groups that had affiliations to Straus.
  • Two UT Law graduates were elected officials at the time that they were admitted to the school. State Representatives Richard Raymond (D) and Eddie Rodriguez (D) each failed the bar at least once. Raymond failed the bar in 2007 and 2008 and is not a member of the Texas bar. Rodriguez failed the bar three times between 2010 and 2012 and is not a member of the bar. Additionally, one of the members of Rodriguez's staff also failed the bar three times between 2009 and 2010 as a UT Law graduate.

Watchdog.org reporter Jon Cassidy said Wallace Hall was not the source of the material in his article. He reported that his investigation used public records request to produce his data and conclusions.[57]

Chancellor's report to the Board of Regents

In May 2014, Dan Sharphorn, Vice Chancellor and General Counsel, and Wanda Mercer, Associate Vice Chancellor for Student Affairs, co-authored a 15-page investigation into admissions policies. The report was presented to the University of Texas System Board of Regents at its May 15-16, 2014 regular meeting. Sharphorn and Mercer interviewed 11 university officials while analyzing student records in comparison to 16 law school and 63 undergraduate applicants. Report authors noted that individuals who had recommendations from legislators received special admissions treatment. "It is common practice for some legislators to submit letters of recommendation for the admission of candidates directly to the UT-Austin president," the report noted. Of the 16 law school applicants reviewed who had outside influence from legislators, eight were accepted. The 50-percent acceptance rate was higher than the standard 22.5 percent acceptance rate for law school applicants. Report authors noted that of the eight accepted applicants, four had "low quantitative scores."[58][59]

When letters from legislators that contain no important substantive information about the applicants are submitted outside that process, particularly those sent to the president of the university, it creates at least an appearance of impropriety."[50]

—Dan Sharphorn and Wanda Mercer, University of Texas System: U.T. Austin Admissions Inquiry

According to Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, the report indicated that a system-wide review of admissions policies should be conducted. Regent Wallace Hall proposed that the Board take the investigation back from the Attorney General of Texas but the board majority rejected the notion.[60]

Forgivable loans program

State Representative Jim Pitts (R) has pushed for the impeachment of Wallace Hall.
See also: Forgivable loans program at the University of Texas Law School

A University of Texas Law School Foundation forgivable loans program for faculty also proved to be a source of contention during the impeachment proceedings. On December 8, 2011, University of Texas, Austin Law School Dean Larry Sager abruptly resigned from his position. Bill Powers, University of Texas, Austin, President, demanded Sager's resignation regarding a forgivable loan scandal.[61] The primary issue was the law school's salary stipends and "forgivable loans" that were meant as incentives to recruit and keep faculty. "The fact of the matter is, and there's no two ways about this fact, that I resigned now because I was asked to by the president of the university," Sager said.[62]

A total of 22 professors, including Sager, received six-figure forgivable loans or other payments. At the time of Sager's resignation, 19 members of the law school faculty were paid more than $300,000 per year. From 2006-2011, the University of Texas Law School Foundation -- an entity that is legally separate from the law school -- gave out more more than $4.6 million in forgivable loans. Sager himself received a $500,000 loan from the foundation.[63][64] Ultimately investigations revealed that the UT Law School Foundation funneled more than $5.5 million in secret loans to professors and deans.[65]

Former University of Texas General Counsel Barry Burgdorf issued a report in November 2012 after investigating the forgivable loans program. University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall called the report "insufficient" and said that it did not provide the full story.[66] In a July 2013 letter to State Representative Jim Pitts, University of Texas Regent Eugene Powell detailed a previously unrevealed letter regarding the forgivable loans program that was not included in Burgdorf's report. The letter, which was addressed to University of Texas Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, was written by several female faculty members of the law school requesting an investigation into "two hidden salary systems that our dean has used during the last five years to hide salary raises and to discriminate against women and minorities in our institution." The letter was reportedly forwarded to Burgdorf.[67][68]

Hall criticized the coalition in an April 2013 interview with Texas Monthly. "When I came on the board in 2011 there was an immediate activity by a small group of people—maybe ten or so—who formed a group called the Texas Coalition for Excellence in Higher Education. The idea is to support higher education, and who doesn’t want to support higher education? But the reality of it is, this group has damaged the university and this board’s effort," he said.[69] The coalition issued a response, alleging that Hall mischaracterized the coalition.[70]

Renewed investigation

In March 2013, the Board of Regents voted to renew the forgivable loans investigation after the initial report was deemed unsatisfactory. This action was approved by regents Wallace Hall, Brenda Pejovich, Paul Foster and Alex Cranberg. Some legislators, including Judith Zaffirini (D), Trey Fischer (D) and Kevin Eltife (R) criticized the action as a waste of taxpayer funds. In one specific email exchange among the FOIA'd documents, University of Texas Budget Director Mary Knight emailed President Powers in June 2009 about salaries of UT officials. The email specifically mentioned Larry Sager, with Knight writing: "note: Sager was included due to his $100K per year deferred compensation over 5 years." The email refers to the $500,000 forgivable loan that Sager received, which eventually contributed to his forced resignation. While Powers maintained that he had been unaware of the loan until the official UT report was conducted, some regents believe that the email from Knight in 2009 proves otherwise.[71][72] Despite criticizing Hall's record requests of the university, Fischer has filed a large number of requests as well. Fischer's office obtained more than 12,000 emails and documents relating to the University of Texas System, including emails between Governor of Texas Rick Perry and Regent officials.[73][74]

Richard Legon, president of the Association of Governing Boards of Universities and Colleges, criticized the impeachment process in a November interview with the Austin American-Statesman. He called the impeachment process the "nuclear option" and said it could send a chilling signal to other members of higher education boards. Legon suggested that the board should have first been given the opportunity to address Hall's requests. "It’s fine for a board member to seek information through the appropriate path. The first layer of reining in an overly aggressive board member should be the board," he said.[75]

December 2013 Regent meeting

A December 12, 2013 Regents Board meeting listed as an agenda item the "discussion and appropriate action related to recommendation by Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs and Chancellor concerning employment of Wililam C. Powers, Jr., as President of the University of Texas, Austin."[76] State legislators previously instructed the board not to make personnel decisions related to anyone currently involved in legislative investigations -- including Powers.[77] Speculation was that the future of Powers could impact whether Texas Longhorns football coach Mack Brown is retained.[78] The Board met for four hours in an executive session closed-door meeting.[79] Because of the posting of the agenda, regents could have taken action following the closed-door session. "I do not know if there was a specific purpose in mind for the agenda item. I’m sure it was discussed between the chancellor and the chairman," said Regent Alex Cranberg. State Senator Judith Zaffirini said she hoped the board would vote in favor of keeping Powers as University President.[80]

At the meeting, the board did not take any action on Powers employment. Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa told the Board that Powers needs to improve trust, respect and communication in dealings with regents and system officials. "I am hopeful that the strained relationships can be improved. It is my recommendation as chancellor that Bill Powers should continue his appointment as president of the University of Texas, Austin," he said.[81][82] Cigarroa said that the relationship between himself and Powers had seen improvement.[83] Powers said: "There was a question about my employment, it got resolved positively. It is very positive to get this behind us and move forward in addressing these issues that face our campuses and face the system."[84]

Cigarroa detailed how in August 2013, he had explained to the Board of Regents the growing strain in his relationship with Powers.[85]

The main reason for the strain is that Bill and I would agree upon certain principles and then I would act on those principles, but then Bill Powers would often convey a message of misalignment, leading to conflict between U. T. System Administration and The University of Texas, Austin. Additionally, conversations with President Powers were frequently difficult, seeming like an ongoing negotiation," Cigarroa said.[85][50]

Legislator text message

In March 2014, it was revealed that State Senator Kirk Watson (R) sent a text message to Regent Chair Paul Foster during the December 12, 2013 meeting.[86]

Setting a future date for the President to leave is no more than a deferred termination. Three of the regents testified that they would not vote for termination absent a recommendation from the Chancellor[50]

Texas State Senator Kirk Watson (R), http://watchdog.wpengine.netdna-cdn.com/wp-content/blogs.dir/1/files/2014/03/WatsonFoster.pdf

Watson previously said the Board should make its decision regarding Powers without any "external influences."[86]

Football coach controversy

The issue surrounding head football coach Mack Brown divided members of the University of Texas, Austin community. In January 2013, Hall reportedly spoke with University of Alabama coach Nick Saban's agent about the possibility of his replacing Brown.[87] University President Bill Powers expressed support for Brown, who had been coach since 1998.[88] While Saban maintained he had no interest in leaving Alabama, a November report cited Saban's agent hinting at the possibility that Saban could leave Alabama for Texas.[89]

On November 6, 2013, the Houston Chronicle reported that Hall had said the University of Texas would be "under new leadership" by the end of 2013, during a phone call with University of Alabama Head Football Coach Nick Saban's agent. The Texas Tribune acquired a memo that was sent from Tom Hicks to his brother, regent Steven Hicks, detailing the phone conversation between Hicks, Hall and Jimmy Sexton, Saban's agent. The phone call took place on January 5, 2013 according to the email. Hicks wrote: "Specifically, he made the statement the[sic] Bil Powers wouldn't be here at the end of the year."[90][91]

Ultimately, Powers was retained as President but Brown resigned in December 2013.

Online records

In Texas, public records requests are detailed in an online database. Citizens can visit the site to see what types of requests have been made. However, once those requests are filled, the actual contents of the requests are not made public. In January 2014, Ross Ramsey, co-founder of Texas Tribune, published an article about the availability of online public records. Ramsey wrote "The schools could avoid extra work while providing real transparency into the records that are supposed to be in public view anyhow." He was referring to how Judith Zaffirini requested duplicates of what Wallace Hall had previously requested. "Someday, it might all be online. For that, you can thank the regent who suggested it. His name is Wallace Hall," Ramsey wrote.[92]

In January 2014, House Speaker Joe Straus hinted that the public records law could be narrowed in the following legislative session.[93]

Texas Coalition for Higher Education Excellence

Jennifer Sarver, spokeswoman for the Texas Coalition for Higher Education Excellence, said that the ongoing power struggles between the Board of Regents and President Bill Powers were demoralizing to the University system. She called the higher education issues "ironic at best." The coalition was formed in 2011 by a group of citizens who "believe strongly in the power of higher education to transform lives, build the economy and shape Texas’ future"[94][95]

Cigarroa resignation

On February 10, 2014, Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa announced he would resign from his position as Chancellor. He said he felt he had accomplished the goals he set out to do five years earlier, and was prepared to return to medical practice full-time. "Education saves lives on many levels and I thought I could bring value to the UT system with that perspective in mind. Now it’s time to return to saving one life at a time," he said.[96] Cigarroa said his resignation had nothing to do with the turmoil and investigations within the University of Texas system. Cigarroa will continue to serve as chancellor until a replacement is found.[97][98] Cigarroa's new position will be as head of pediatric surgery at the University of Texas Health Science Center in San Antonio.[99]

Emails between Hall and Cigarroa

The Dallas Morning News obtained an email in March 2013 related to Cigarroa's resignation. According to the newspaper, Wallace Hall sent a number of emails to Cigarroa in the weeks before his resignation. The email the newspaper obtained via open records request was sent from Regent chair Paul Foster to Cigarroa. In the email, Foster defended Cigarroa for his work while also praising Hall for his "tenacity as a regent and recommendations to better the university." Foster then implied that Hall had pressured Cigarroa to act, which Foster said he did not agree with.[100] State representative Lyle Larson (R) renewed his call for Hall to resign and Trey Martinez Fischer (D) requested that the committee re-open investigations. Committee co-chair Dan Flynn (R) said no further hearings were planned at the time.[101]

Relationship between Cigarroa and Powers

An April 22, 2014 article in the Austin American-Statesman detailed an email exchange between Hall and Regent Chairman Paul Foster, in which Hall alleged that University of Texas President Bill Powers threatened Cigarroa prior to his resignation. The three-page email was written on March 19, 2014.[102] In the email, Hall makes an array of accusations regarding the impeachment trial and events within the university system.[103]

  • Cigarroa first expressed concern to the Board of Regents about an "inability to work with President Powers" in 2010, which was one year prior to Hall's appointment.
  • According to Hall, Cigarroa asked President Powers to resign in Fall 2013. Powers then reportedly offered a range of requirements to retire, which Hall said were "understandably" refused by Chairman Foster.
  • Hall alleged that Powers "leveled a threat against the Chancellor," which compromised his ability to work. This threat was reportedly made in front of Pedro Reyes, Executive Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs at The University of Texas System.
  • Regent Steven Hicks reportedly requested an "up or down vote" on Powers. Hall wrote that Foster has not allowed this vote to occur.

Empower Texans CEO Michael Quinn Sullivan pointed to the email as indication of a cover-up at the university, intended to deter an investigation into alleged clout scandals within the higher education system. Quinn Sullivan wrote: "it appears some legislators have been conspiring with UT Austin officials to get unqualified students admission to the state’s flagship university."[104] A spokesman for Powers did not comment on the email.

Timeline and proceedings

Early stages of impeachment investigation

In 2013, the Joint Committee on Oversight of Higher Ed Governance, Excellence & Transparency inquired into the possibility of an impeachment. In an April 2013 interview with Texas Monthly, Hall said that there was little outreach from state officials about the process prior to the impeachment proceedings. "[Committee co-chairman] Dan Branch has been a friend of mine for many years. He’s never asked me a question about this situation, and the next thing I know he’s asking his staff to investigate the rules for impeachment. I’m mystified by that, frankly," Hall said.[69]

In a letter dated August 15, 2013, Hall responded to the committee via his lawyer. The letter expanded upon the reasons for Hall's investigation.[105] According to the letter, Hall found that "allegations of political influence in the admissions process appear in some instances to be true."[106]

Regent Hall found correspondence on behalf of a [state] Representative inquiring about the admission of the Member’s adult son or daughter to a UT Austin graduate school. Although the dean had previously stated the applicant did not meet the school’s standards and would need to either retake the graduate admission exam or attend another graduate school first, upon information and belief, the son or daughter was in fact admitted without retaking the test or attending another school. Regent Hall found other correspondence in which a [state] Senator sought special consideration for an applicant who had been rejected, but was strongly supported by another Senator. In the communication, the Senator seeking special treatment reminded the UT Austin official of recent legislative action taken to benefit The University. Upon information and belief, the rejected applicant was subsequently admitted to UT Austin.[106][50]

—Wallace Hall's legal team, August 15, 2013

During a September 2013 panel conversation with state senator Kirk Watson, Hall defended his investigations and criticized the impeachment proceedings. "Impeachment is used to protect the public, not to punish an individual. Do you think I’m protecting the public, or do you think the politicians that are coming after me are protecting the public?"[107]

In a November 11, 2013 meeting, the Board of Regents voted to ask the Attorney General of Texas for an opinion regarding the release of confidential information for the investigation. The Board waived confidentiality for some records to be turned over to the committee, while seeking input about other pieces of information.[108] Paul Foster, Regent Chair, asked Attorney General of Texas Greg Abbott whether a House committee can hold University of Texas officials in contempt to the same extent as a district court.[109]

Reaction from individuals and groups

Lyle Larson

In November 2013, committee member Lyle Larson (R) sent a letter to Governor Perry, recommending that Hall resign from his position. "I truly believe Wallace Hall's resignation is the best way to move forward," he wrote.[110]

Larson also published an op-ed on May 14, 2014, in which suggested that the facts were "indisputable" that Hall had violated laws and should resign.[111] On May 30, 2014, Hall's lawyer informed Larson that the column could be seen as defamation against Hall, and that if it were not retracted Hall would possibly sue Larson. The letter, sent by Hall's counsel David Rivkin, accuses Larson of making a "false statement with actual malice, because you knew it to be false or acted with reckless disregard as to its truth." Larson told the Texas Tribune that he was not bothered or deterred by the letter.[112][113]

University of Texas students

On November 19, 2013, the student government of the University of Texas, Austin approved a vote of "no confidence" against Hall. The joint resolution was fast-tracked through the governing body, having only been circulated to voting members one hour prior to the meeting. Typically, legislation must be submitted by midnight on the Friday prior to a meeting. Some members of the student government expressed concern about fast-tracking this legislation prior to having the chance to speak with constituents.[114]

Empower Texans

In December 2013, the organization Empower Texans sent a mailer criticizing committee chair Carol Alvarado. The mailer stated that lawmakers improperly focused on Hall's behavior, rather than investigating the allegations of clout at the University of Texas, Austin. Alvarado called the mailer the action of "an outside group that’s trying to influence an investigation." Empower Texans president Michael Quinn Sullivan said the legislature was engaging in a "whitewashing" of potential university wrongdoings. "We're impeaching someone for asking questions," he said.[115][116]

Mark Jones, political science professor

In a June 2014 interview with the Houston Chronicle, Rice University political science professor expressed doubt that the Texas State Senate would move forward with impeachment if a trial landed at their feet. One reason Jones cited was the Texas Lieutenant Governor election in 2014. Dan Patrick, the frontrunner, previously supported Hall. "There is no way in the world he's going to be impeached in the Senate. (The investigation) provides every Republican with a nonpartisan reason for why they oppose impeachment... Even for more moderate, centrist Republicans, it's apparent he was not totally off base," he said.[59]

Impeachment costs

The committee has drawn some criticism for the escalating costs of the trial, while accusing Hall of creating unnecessary costs and burdens on the state.[117][118]

The committee hired Rusty Hardin to serve as legal counsel for the committee. Hardin, a well-known Houston attorney, represented former Major League Baseball player Roger Clemens in his steroid trials.[119][120] The legal fees for the case are expected to range from $300 to $525 per hour. Hall is providing for his own legal defense.[121][122] Several committee meetings have been held behind closed doors, which Hall's lawyers have criticized as demonstrating a lack of transparency.[123]

In January 2014, it was reported that Hardin had already billed the state of Texas more than $200,000 for work on the case. The bills to that point had not included work in November and December. Some of the included expenses, as reported by the Dallas Morning News included:[124]

  • $500 for a meeting at an upscale restaurant in Austin, Texas with a "witness" and "chief of staff."[125]
  • $800 per person for two nights at the Austin, Texas Downtown Hampton hotel (five people total for a cost of $4,000)[124]

A February 11, 2014 article in the Dallas Morning News reported that legal costs for the case had cost the state more than $400,000 in 2013. Some of the prior charges from Hardin's office were updated following a review by the office of State House Speaker Joe Straus. Reductions totaled about $5,500 -- including removing the $500 upscale dinner and capping the reimbursement rate in Austin based on state law. The legal team of Philip Hilder billed close to $200,000 for its work representing the UT System. His contract was capped at $200,000.[118]

According to a report from Watchdog, Rusty Hardin's firm reportedly was late in filing invoices to the state. The firm's contract with the state for the case required monthly invoices. However, according to a February 27, 2014 news report, no invoice had been filed since December 6, 2013. Terms of the contract stipulate: "Each month, the Attorneys shall submit to the Speaker for review and approval an itemized statement of all work performed under this contract during the preceding month..."[126]

Throughout the hearings, Hall was accused of requesting more than 800,000 pages in documents. Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa corrected this assertion and said the true request was closer to 100,000 pages.[127] For Hardin's investigation, he required more than 150,000 pages from the university and a sum of at least $1 million. Hardin detailed what he called Hall's "most questionable actions," as the following:[128]

  • Disclosing confidential student information,
  • Pressuring Committee witnesses to change their testimony
  • And burdening UT Austin with impossible document production demands

The first two bullet points regarding disclosing confidential information and pressuring witnesses, would not have taken place had the investigation not been instigated by legislators in the first place. The accusation regarding a burdening demand was called "hypocrisy" in light of the amount of time and money that has been put into the impeachment hearings themselves.[127][128]

June 2014 reaction

Despite the requirement to submit monthly invoices to the state, Hardin's team was delinquent for six months as of June 2014. The Houston Chronicle contacted Hardin about the lack of transparency in billing. Hardin said he had been "wrapped up in an important case" which was what kept him from personally reviewing the bills before they were submitted. He said it would be "done in a reasonably soon time." State legislators on the committee would not comment to the Chronicle about the invoices. State Representative David Simpson (R), who has opposed the impeachment proceedings, said the invoices problem represents an inability of the committee to hold Hardin accountable.[129]

Hardin bill June 2014

In June 2014, Hardin submitted a bill covering expenses in November 2013. That bill was for $93,728.66. That bill brought the total price for the first three months of work to more than $300,000.[130] Hardin's official contract ended on March 31, 2014.[131][132][133]

Hearing-related events

Cross-examination

Hall's lawyers asked for the right to cross-examine statements to the committee. However, members of the committee rejected the request.[134] Hall's attorney said, "Today, we heard the committee spend 10 minutes of platitude on transparency and spend two hours in secrecy. It’s important that the full story come out, not just the limited amount Mr. Hardin may decide is relevant."[135] When Governor of Texas James Ferguson was impeached in 1917, cross-examination was allowed. In 1975, Judge O.P. Carrillo was impeached, and his case had cross-examination on a limited scope.[136][137]

Public records request

On September 16, 2013, the nonprofit organization Empower Texans filed an open records request for the list of possible witnesses in the trial. On September 25, the committee responded and denied to release the information, claiming that the information was confidential by law. The committee requested an opinion from the Attorney General of Texas on the matter, seeking an exception from open records requests.[138] Empower Texans has taken the position that the committee violated House Rule 413 by refusing to allow Hall's attorneys the right to cross-examine witnesses.[139]

Committee hearings


State Representative Dan Flynn is interviewed in December 2013 about the University of Texas investigations.

In September 2013, Dan Flynn, co-chair of the select committee, said three basic questions would be asked during the process.[140]

  1. Did Hall fail to disclose material information on his application to be a regent?[141]
  2. Did he reveal information about students that violated their privacy?[141]
  3. Did he exceed his role as a regent in requesting massive amounts of information from UT-Austin?[141]

July 15, 2013

Jeff Archer, chief legislative counsel for the Texas Legislative Council, testified that the impeachment process is murky and very few attempts have been made in the state's history to impeach public officials. He cited no prior examples of any impeachment process existing for an official other than a governor or judge.[142]

October 22, 2013

During the meeting on October 22, 2013, committee member Charles Perry asserted that mishandling of student information should fall on the shoulders of the organization that is handing out the information -- in this case, Kevin Hegarty and his office -- as opposed to the individual who receives the documents. Hegarty disagreed with the statement.[143] Pitts alleged that Hall is undermining the prominence of the University of Texas while trying to bring about the "resignation or firing of President Bill Powers." Pitts has been a central proponent of the impeachment investigation.[144] Barry Burgdorf, former general counsel to the University of Texas, testified that he believed that Hall's intent was to "get rid" of Bill Powers.[145]

Pitts acknowledged that he routinely writes letters to Bill Powers, President of the University of Texas, on behalf of select student applications. Specifically, he wrote a letter on behalf of his son after the University of Texas law school had initially rejected his admittance. "The letter I wrote for my son was pretty much a form letter," Pitts said in an October meeting of the Transparency in State Agency Operations Committee. These letters were sent to both the law school dean and the university president.[146][147][148] Van Fleet alleged that there was evidence Pitts spoke with President Powers' executive assistant about ensuring an unnamed student who had previously been rejected from law school would receive an opportunity to re-apply and interview with the dean.[149]

November 12, 2013

The committee issued subpoenas for Dan Sharphorn, University of Texas Vice Chancellor and General Counsel; Francie Frederick, General Counsel to the University of Texas System Board of Regents; Barbara Holthaus, System Senior Attorney; and Hall, who was expected to testify at the December 10, 2013 meeting.[150][151] However, only minutes after initially filing the subpoena for Hall, committee members suddenly recalled it. Carol Alvarado said the members acted too quickly without checking their schedule. The subpoena was issued for December 10, but no meeting was scheduled until December 18.[152]

During testimony, Frederick said Hall may have been in possession of protected student information. "We failed by allowing this to happen," she said. During the meeting, committee member Trey Fischer asked whether possession of the document was a criminal violation. Fischer did not specify what the crime was. Additionally, the law that Fischer was referring to does not apply to universities and would therefore not apply in this situation.[153] Sharphorn also testified at the meeting.[154]

Committee-member Trey Fischer alleged that Hall violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). Fischer said Hall may have violated state law by sharing documents with his defense team. However, testimony from Holthaus said that communications regarding an un-enrolled student were not protected by FERPA. She said only once a student is enrolled and attending the university are the records protected by FERPA.[155]

Legislators also voted to issue subpoenas to Francisco Cigarroa and Bill Powers to appear at the December 18, 2013 meeting. A scheduled November 13, 2013 meeting was canceled after the committee completed all necessary business.[156][157][158]

Criminal allegation

Following Frederick's testimony, Fischer ordered the Board of Regents to hire an outside firm to investigate whether Hall had committed a criminal action. A January 2014 review by the law firm Hilder & Associates concluded that there was "no credible evidence of a violation of [the state government code] that would warrant a referral for criminal prosecution." The report concluded that Hall had a legitimate reason for having the documents in question. "In light of the fundamental role attorneys play, it would lead to an absurd result were it criminal for an official to provide student records to his or her attorney in the face of litigation, or anticipated litigation, involving these records," Philip Hilder wrote in the report.[7] Hilder submitted the report to the legislative committee. Committee member Dan Flynn said he was not surprised by the findings and was pleased the university counsel reached a conclusion.[159][160]

December 18-19, 2013

Subpoena of Hall

With Francisco Cigarroa and Bill Powers already subpoenaed, Hall's lawyer Allan Van Fleet requested that the committee respond regarding whether it would also subpoena Hall. He said that Hall's lawyers have told him not to appear before the committee without a subpoena. On December 5, 2013, Van Fleet sent a letter to the committee requesting that the co-chairs announce whether Hall would indeed be subpoenaed. Van Fleet's request asked for an answer by the end of the day. In response, committee attorney Rusty Hardin said "We're not going to adhere to his deadline. He doesn't get to pick the time and place." Van Fleet pointed out that providing two weeks' notice for testimony is the standard to allow individuals to prepare testimony. He added that the letter has "caused confusion about the committee's intentions."[161]

On December 10, 2013, the committee sent a letter to Hall asking that he testify -- but they did not issue a subpoena. The committee sent a one-page, two-paragraph letter that invited Hall to testify and provide a list of witnesses.[162] On December 16, 2013, Hall's attorney Allan Van Fleet said Hall would not testify at the December 18 committee hearing. Van Fleet wrote: "Regent Hall has volunteered a number of times in the past to share his views with legislative Committees about the challenges and opportunities faced by the UT System. Though these offers have never been accepted, he remains interested in sharing his views, in collaborating with all policy makers on initiatives that will benefit the UT System, and in working with the committees to improve the transparency and accountability practices that should guide all UT System activities."[163][164][165][166]

Hall was invited to testify but was not given a subpoena, which is often perceived to provide some legal protection to the witness. Other individuals -- such as Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa and University of Texas, Austin President Bill Powers -- have been given formal subpoenas. Legislators criticized Hall for not agreeing to testify, despite the differing set of circumstances given to Hall. "It’s very disappointing to me that he and his attorney do not understand or do not care to observes the rules and procedures of the Texas House of Representatives and have decided they are not going to appear to testify," said co-chair Dan Flynn.[167][168] Although the committee was slated to meet on Wednesday and Thursday (December 18-19), Hardin said that the meetings would likely only take place for one day. "Unless Wallace Hall has a change of heart and wants to show up, we won’t be there on Thursday," he said.[169]

Testimony and subpoenas

At the December 18, 2013 meeting, Bill Powers and Francisco Cigarroa testified to the committee. Additionally, two former regents testified -- H. Scott Caven Jr. and John Barnhill. Cigarroa was questioned for more than 3 hours. Committee counsel Rusty Hardin discussed new evidence that had not previously been revealed. He said that earlier in the year, Hall had inquired about seizing some computers from the University of Texas Law School. Cigarroa confirmed the account, but said that the inquiry had not been executed.[170][171] Despite not providing Hall with a subpoena, committee legislators called it a "slap in the face" that Hall did not testify. Committee member Charles Perry noted that while all individuals who testified were given an official subpoena, Hall himself was not granted one. In fact, it was more directly avoided by the committee, after it first sent him a subpoena only to withdraw it.[172] A subpoena would have insulated individuals from risk in violating FERPA.[173] Committee co-chairs Carol Alvarado and Dan Flynn (R) released a joint statement: "Our invitation to Regent Hall still stands. We are eager to hear from him, and are prepared to accommodate his testimony."[174] Flynn said he hoped to wrap up the process by the end of the year and that the committee would move forward regardless of whether Hall testifies.[175][176]

Some of the commentary during testimony from the four witnesses:[177]

  • Powers: Said that the controversy surrounding his employment was a large distraction. He said it hurt the university's ability to recruit faculty and staff.[177] Powers added that the situation did "significant harm to our reputation in the academic world nationally and internationally."[178] Powers estimated that the records requests cost the university more than $1 million.[179]
  • Cigarroa: Said that there has been a bit of a distraction over the past year because of voluminous requests on one campus. He admitted that Hall had approached him about the controversies surrounding law professor salaries and admission policies.[177] He said that Hall had never approached him about firing Powers.[180] He added that Hall has the right to ask questions, with the University then responding as best it can.[181] Cigarroa also announced that the University of Texas System would be conducting a formal inquiry into admissions favoritism at the University of Texas, Austin. Specifically, the Chancellor's office would examine the qualifications of 70 undergraduate applicants and 16 law school students who were previously recommended by lawmakers. "I’ve got concerns that there are external influences involved in the admissions of students. I’m looking at a cohort of students. I’m looking at the process," he said.[182]
  • Caven: Said that it was inappropriate for an individual regent to act on his or her own accord without first sharing the mission of his actions to the rest of the board.[177]
  • Barnhill: Agreed with Caven and said regents should function as a board moving in a single direction.[177]

The committee canceled the December 19 meeting. Based on the information and testimony gathered. Rusty Hardin's report will be compiled and then presented to the committee for review. The report could recommend impeachment, which would then require convening the full house.[183] Watchdog.org reported in late March 2014 that Hardin's report would be released in April.[184]

May 12, 2014

A committee hearing was held on May 12, 2014 where legislators voted 7-1 that there were grounds for impeachment. Committee co-chair Dan Flynn (R) called the vote a "historical time."[185] Charles Perry (R) was the one representative who voted against grounds for impeachment. In response to the vote, Hall released a statement, in which he defended his actions and accused the transparency committee of interfering with investigations of the University. "My efforts as a regent are to serve the interests of our great educational institutions, the students, faculty, and staff who make them great, and the taxpayers who fund them, not to appease a privileged class who abuse them," Hall said in the statement.[186][187]

May 21-22, 2014

The next committee meeting is scheduled for May 21-22 when discussions will be held about the specific articles of impeachment.[188]

Committee minutes

The following video links come from the official committee operations website.[189]

Post-hearing events

Committee monitoring

In a December 2013 letter to University of Texas Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa, committee co-chairs Carol Alvarado (D) and Dan Flynn (D) said that the committee would continue to monitor the University of Texas System beyond the impeachment trial proceedings. The letter indicated that the committee would be observing the university's reactions to the investigations. The letter listed seven directives relating to things that might change as a result of the investigation.[190]

Favoritism and impeachment reports

A report commissioned by the University of Texas concerning allegations of admissions favoritism was expected to be released in early April 2014. According to Watchdog.org, the report will show that "applicants who had a lawmaker intervene on their behalf with top university officials were far more likely to gain admission than an applicant without those connections."[184]

The legislative committee pursuing the impeachment of Wallace Hall was also expected to release its report in early April. Citing unnamed "sources familiar with the matter," Watchdog.org reported that the committee's leaders intend to use their report to counter the potential impact of the admissions favoritism report.[184]

Committee report

Note: The full draft report can be found here

On April 7, 2014, the San Antonio Express-News and Houston Chronicle viewed an advance copy of Hardin's 176-page report. The newspapers reported that the document was previously made available to committee members on April 4, 2014. The report alleges that Hall broke state and federal law. As of April 8, 2014, the report was not yet made public. Hall's lawyers said he would not comment on the report until he had seen it. According to the newspaper summary, the report alleges that Hall attempted to coerce UT administrators prior to their testimony.[191][192] The report refers to Hall's "burdensome" requests for records as one of the critiques laid out against the regent.[193][194]

The Texas Tribune, which also received a copy of the report, wrote that "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." The report listed four items as a sufficient basis for articles of impeachment. The report does not make any explicit recommendation to the committee.[195]

The draft report recommended to the committee that impeachment could be pursued for at least four bases.[128] Hardin said the report is only the "beginning" of the process. He added that the report does not accuse Hall of breaking any laws.[196]

Post-report meetings

On April 24, 2014, the committee met privately for three hours discussing Hardin's report. A vote was scheduled for May 12, 2014 to decide on whether to recommend impeachment and removal. Legislators would not disclose the conversations held behind closed doors.[10][197][198]

Reaction

Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni (ACTA), said the investigation of Hall was "simply off the rails." Throughout much of the investigation, legislators have maintained that Hall was on a "witch hunt" for President Bill Powers. Neal's statement took the opposite approach, accusing the legislature of engaging in an "expensive witch hunts designed to discourage public servants from asking tough questions in pursuit of the public interest." According to its website, the ACTA is "an independent, non-profit organization committed to academic freedom, excellence, and accountability at America's colleges and universities."[199] The Texas Coalition for Higher Education Excellence supported the report's conclusions. Spokeswoman Jenifer Sarver called the findings, "deeply troubling."[200]

After the release of the report, Hall's lawyers sent a letter on April 8, 2014 to the committee on transparency. In the letter, Hall's lawyers requested that a copy of the report be sent to their offices, as they had not been delivered a version prior to the leak of the report to the media.[201]

In light of the report, editors at the Houston Chronicle called for Hall to resign.[202]

Criminal investigation

After the release of the draft report, the committee forwarded the report to the Travis County District Attorney. On April 14, 2014, the County said its office would investigate whether further action would be required and whether the a criminal case would push forward against Hall.[203][204][205] Gregg Cox, Assistant District Attorney in Travis County, said the Public Integrity Unit launched a formal investigation of Hall.[206]

Hall's attorney responds to the report

On May 6, 2014, Hall's attorney Allan Van Fleet sent a letter to the Transparency Committee in response to the report issued by Rusty Hardin. Van Fleet accused the committee of withholding information that would "exonerate Regent Hall from all of the committee's charges." The letter alleged that the committee "manipulated the process to prevent public exposure to the truth."[207]

Van Fleet's May 6 letter made reference to a previously sent letter on April 25, 2014, that requested the release of an audio recording from an August 22, 2013 University of Texas System Board of Regents board meeting. According to the letter, a recording made by Regent Alex Cranberg at the meeting pinpoints the exact position of the Regent members regarding President Bill Powers' employment situation. The letter maintained it is a key piece of evidence that has not been released to the public. Hall's lawyers requested that the recording be released and sent to the Travis County District Attorney. The Texas Tribune also requested the recording. University of Texas System officials then asked the Attorney General for permission to withhold the recording.[208][209]

The letter from Van Fleet lists seven facts that he alleges refutes the committee's assertions. Those facts listed were as follows:[210]

  1. "Regent Hall fully disclosed information on his nomination application"[210]
  2. "Regent Hall did not violate FERPA protections"[210]
  3. "Regent Hall did not “leak” or otherwise disclose student information"[210]
  4. "Regent Hall properly represented the UT System in discussions about charitable donations"[210]
  5. "Regent Hall’s information requests were reasonable and necessary"[210]
  6. "Regent Hall did not tamper with or coerce testimony"[210]
  7. "The committee has manipulated the process to prevent public exposure to the truth about every issue under investigation"[210]

Letters leaked between committee members

Just before the May 12, 2014 hearing, several letters between members of the committee were leaked to the media. Committee co-chair Dan Flynn (R) wrote to his fellow committee members that while he disagreed with Hall's tactics, there did not appear to be legal ground to move forward with impeachment. Flynn wrote, "The precedent set by doing so would subject everyone on a board or committee throughout the state to be subject to a level of scrutiny that would make their tenure more about personality than performance." In response to Flynn, committee member Eric Johnson (D) recommended that the committee delay its vote, pending the investigation by the Travis County prosecutors. Johnson wrote that the letter was "confusing."[211][212][213] In Flynn's letter, he recognized that Hall's investigations uncovered real problems within the state. Flynn did not agree with Hall's methods, but he detailed four specific scandals (among 10 recommended next steps).[214]

Flynn specifically offered his thoughts on each of the four charges laid out by Rusty Hardin in the draft report. Flynn detailed his rebuttals to each of those points.[215] Flynn recommended asking Governor of Texas Rick Perry (R) to step in and ask Hall to resign.[216]

Flynn's letter reportedly copied elements of a previously published report in the American Spectator. Reporter Jon Cassidy published an article on April 16, 2014 in the American Spectator under the headline, "The University of Texas Show Trial." In this article, he defended Hall's actions and criticized the committee's impeachment hearings. The article contained a typo regarding the word "statute" in which it appeared as "statue"[sic]. Flynn's letter contained the same typo and similar wording throughout his letter, which Cassidy pointed out in a follow-up report in the magazine.[217][218]

Regent responses

The reaction to Hall's impeachment has been mixed from his fellow regents.

Call for Hall to resign

At a May 15, 2014 Board of Regents meeting, Board Chair Paul Foster said he believed Hall should resign from his position as Regent. "I implore you to deal with the results of the actions that now have the potential for significant consequence for the UT system," Foster said.[221] Regents Alex Cranberg and Eugene Powell defended Hall's actions while Jeffery Hildebrand, Robert Stillwell and Steven Hicks supported Foster in his call for resignation. No formal vote on Hall was taken by the board.[222]

Foster implied that Hall's resignation would be the best course of action in order to end the distraction that was caused by the impeachment trial.[223] Hall was present at the meeting but did not comment to media.[224]

Hall's attorney Allan Van Fleet sent a letter to Foster indicating that Hall would not resign.[225][226][227]

Possible ramifications

FERPA

One of the issues raised by state legislators is whether Hall and the FOIA requests violated the Family Educational Rights and Privacy Act (FERPA). The law, which was implemented in 1974, is intended to protect the privacy of student education records.[228] One study showed that over the past 40 years, there has not even been a fine as a result of a violation of FERPA. A federal court ruled in 2009 that emails do not qualify as education records and therefore are not covered by FERPA.[153][229]

A National Review article on December 13, 2013 commented on the FERPA allegations in the case and how the author obtained his sources. In the article, the author said he had never spoken with Hall about the case and had discovered his research simply by Googling information. The author wrote, "Given that Representative Pitts not only improperly sought special consideration for his son but then had the audacity to lead impeachment proceedings in a case in which he has a clear and obvious conflict of interest, my read is that the wrong man is on trial in Austin."[230] FERPA allows school officials -- including administrators -- to have access to records when there is a legitimate purpose.[231]

Hall's impeachment

Support for impeachment

  • Barry Burgdorf, the University of Texas System's former general counsel, testified that he believed Hall was driven by a "clear intent to get rid of Bill Powers."[232][233]
  • Jim Pitts, State Representative said Hall's record requests were an effort to "to destroy certain members of this Legislature."[234]
  • Lyle Larson, State Representative said Hall should resign from the Board of Regents.[235]
  • Pamela Willeford, retired U.S. Ambassador and former chair of the Texas Higher Education Coordinating Board, accused Hall of being determined to "tear down" the University of Texas, Austin. She said she supports the actions of the committee.[236]
  • The San Antonio Express News editorial board criticized Hall in a March 31, 2014 opinion piece that called for Hall's resignation.[237]
  • Committee-member Trey Fischer (D) said Hall's actions "left a stain" and were excessive.[17]

Opposition to impeachment

  • Francisco Cigarroa, University of Texas Chancellor has defended Hall's actions and criticized the impeachment process.[238]
  • Governor of Texas Rick Perry called the investigation "extraordinary political theater." He added: "I think it is sending a horrible message to the public." Perry offered his support for Hall's investigation and records requests, stating, "I just think that at the end, the public’s need to know and the public’s right to know, questions that Mr. Hall is asking, is totally and absolutely correct."[239] In May 2014, Perry released a statement reaffirming his support for Hall. "Wallace Hall should be commended for his persistence — in the face of overwhelming opposition from bureaucrats — in trying to ensure the institutions of higher education under his purview are operating effectively, efficiently and within the law."[240]
  • Jeff Sandefer, educator and businessman, called Hall "bravery under fire" in an email seeking support for the regent.[241][242] In an October 2013 op-ed, Sandefer wrote about the University of Texas, Austin's U.S. News ranking drop in relation to the impeachment investigation against Hall. Sandefer called Hall a whistle-blower who has suffered "vicious personal attacks.[243]
  • Eugene Powell, University of Texas System Board of Regents chairman, wrote a letter in support of Hall to Jim Pitts. "I am aware of no instance of Regent Hall inappropriately sharing information that is confidential by law with others outside U.T. System and encourage you to identify any specific concerns you have in this area," Powell wrote.[244]
  • Charles Miller, former University of Texas Regent called the impeachment proceedings a "spectacle." "It's not the legislature’s business to protect the president of the University of Texas, Austin. I don’t think they know what they’re doing."[245]
  • Anne Neal, president of the American Council of Trustees and Alumni, wrote an op-ed questioning the use of impeachment in this situation. "Impeachment is a rare sanction reserved usually for elected officials who have engaged in serious malfeasance. It is not a club to wield when there are policy differences or to intimidate appointed officials when, in good faith, they are doing their job."[246]
  • Empower Texans, a nonprofit organization in Texas, has opposed the impeachment and called it a "witch hunt" against anyone who "dares to ask tough questions."[247]
  • David Simpson, State Representative, called the investigation "a show," adding: "People want to pursue this political witch hunt without exposing who they are or being transparent themselves."[248] Simpson called the case a "farce" in a June 2014 letter to state legislators.[249]
  • Committee co-chair Dan Flynn (R) indicated in a May 2014 letter that he opposed impeachment.[250]
  • The Wall Street Journal opined against Hall's impeachment in a May 11, 2014 op-ed.[251]
  • State Representative Jonathan Stickland posted a blog defending Hall's actions as a regent. Strickland wrote that "Hall has been under assault by the political establishment for months."[252]
  • State Representative and 2014 Lt. Governor candidate Dan Patrick (R) said an investigation should be launched based on the findings uncovered by Hall. During a debate with David Dewhurst, Patrick said: "This is a potentially huge scandal in the making. If students who should have earned the right to go to the University of Texas Law School were denied a seat — and many are, because there are only so many seats — because a legislator’s friend, a donor’s child, or a legislator’s child or relative got in ahead of them with lower scores, that is wrong. And Wallace Hall should not be impeached because he looked at that issue."[253]

Impeachment procedures

See also: Impeachments in Texas

Title 6, Chapter 665 of the Texas Government Code addresses the impeachment and removal of public officers by the state house.

House

When the House is not in session, there are three ways that the House may be convened for purposes of impeachment.[254]

  • Proclamation of Governor
  • Proclamation of the speaker following the submission of a written petition signed by at least 50 members of the House.
  • Proclamation signed by a majority of the members of the House. There are 150 members of the Texas State House.
Senate

If the House adopts articles of impeachment, the Texas State Senate is required to sit as a court of impeachment. If the Senate is not in session, there are four ways by which it may be convened.[254]

  • Proclamation of Governor
  • After 10 days have elapsed from article adoption, if the Governor has not acted, then by proclamation of Lieutenant Governor if the Governor has not issued a proclamation
  • After 15 days have elapsed from article adoption, if the Governor and Lt. Governor have not acted, then by proclamation of the President Pro Tempore of the State Senate
  • After 20 days have elapsed from article adoption, if the Governor, Lt. Governor and President Pro Tempore have not acted, then by proclamation of a signed majority of the members of the Senate. There are 31 members of the Texas State Senate.

See also

External links

References

  1. Texas Public Radio, "UT Regent Wallace Hall Will Testify In Impeachment Hearing," November 13, 2013
  2. Texas Tribune, "Perry, Straus reach out to appointees amid Hall inquiry," December 21, 2013
  3. Daily Caller, "Texas tries to topple higher-ed transparency," November 21, 2013
  4. Fort Worth Star-Telegram, "Perry calls regent impeachment “political theater”," October 30, 2013
  5. Lubbock Online, "Perry, Straus Reach Out to Appointees Amid Hall Inquiry," December 22, 2013
  6. Texas Tribune, "Letter from Rick Perry to Appointees," November 22, 2013
  7. 7.0 7.1 Texas Tribune, "Report: Regent Didn't Violate Student Privacy Laws," January 15, 2014
  8. Texas Tribune Uploads, "Hilder & Associates Report," January 13, 2014
  9. Texas Government Code, "Title 6, Chapter 665," accessed November 25, 2013
  10. 10.0 10.1 Dallas Morning News, "Texas House panel to vote in May on UT regent's impeachment," April 24, 2014
  11. Texas State Legislature, "Notice of public hearing," April 24, 2014
  12. Houston Chronicle, "Panel says grounds for impeaching regent exist," May 12, 2014
  13. Austin American-Statesman, "House panel finds grounds exist for impeaching UT regent," May 12, 2014
  14. Texas Tribune, "In Letter to UT Board Chair, Hall Says He Won't Resign," May 19, 2014
  15. Houston Chronicle, "Don't expect impeachment vote on UT regent soon," May 21, 2014
  16. Houston Chronicle, "Hearing on impeachment articles against UT regent delayed," July 2, 2014
  17. 17.0 17.1 Wall Street Journal, "University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall Jr. Becomes a Lightning Rod," June 15, 2014
  18. New York Times, "New Twists as House Weighs Impeaching a Regent," June 26, 2014
  19. Texas Tribune, "Admissions Inquiry Takes Center Stage in UT Saga," June 25, 2014
  20. Texas Tribune, "Admissions Investigation Preceded by Years of Tension," June 26, 2014
  21. Texas Tribune, "Political Landscape Shifts as Hall Inquiry Continues," June 27, 2014
  22. Texas Tribune, "Cigarroa Tells Powers to Resign or Be Fired," July 4, 2014
  23. Watchdog, "UT President Bill Powers to resign -- in 2015," July 9, 2014
  24. University of Texas System, "Schedule of Events for Board of Regents' Meeting on July 10, 2014"
  25. Watchdog, "Board to decide UT president’s fate Thursday," July 7, 2014
  26. Texas Public Radio, "House Committee Wants UT Regents To Hold Off On Any Action Against Pres. Bill Powers," July 8, 2014
  27. American Spectator, "Transparency for Thee," October 25, 2013
  28. Austin American Statesman, "Perry pans impeachment proceedings, defends UT Regent Hall," October 30, 2013
  29. Watchdog, "‘Witch hunt’ fallout: Speaker calls for narrower public records law," February 5, 2014
  30. Texas Tribune, "UT System Responds to Transparency Committee Directives," February 3, 2014
  31. Daily Texan, "University releases confidential records to Regent Wallace Hall," May 1, 2013
  32. Austin American Statesman, "In unusual move, regent obtains vast file of open records materials from UT," February 20, 2013
  33. Texas Tribune, "Cigarroa letter to the Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations," February 1, 2014
  34. Daily Texas Online, "Former UT System vice chancellor alleges Regent Wallace Hall’s ‘clear intent to get rid of Bill Powers’," October 24, 2013
  35. Dallas Morning News, "UT regent sought 800,000 documents, official says in impeachment hearing," October 22, 2013
  36. Texas Tribune, "Pitts: Enough Evidence to Impeach UT Regent Hall," October 22, 2013
  37. Texas Tribune, "UT Regent Wallace Hall Updates Lawsuit Disclosures," April 30, 2013
  38. Real Clear Policy, "The Campaign Against Wallace Hall," August 15, 2013
  39. Watchdog.org, "Case against UT regent Wallace Hall is a sham — here’s proof," September 6, 2013
  40. News-Journal, "University of Texas regent not worried by impeachment inquiry," September 9, 2013
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