Pitts Files Resolution to Impeach UT Regent Hall

Dallas businessman Wallace Hall, Jr. takes notes at the University of Texas Board of Regents meeting on Feb. 14, 2013 in Austin.
Dallas businessman Wallace Hall, Jr. takes notes at the University of Texas Board of Regents meeting on Feb. 14, 2013 in Austin.

Note: This story has been updated throughout with additional information about HR 230.

House Appropriations Chairman Jim Pitts, R-Waxahachie, filed a resolution on Monday to impeach University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall.

Hall has generated controversy for his investigative approach to the regent position, in particular his handling of the University of Texas at Austin. He has habitually made voluminous records requests to the university and has continued to do so after legislators signaled their disapproval.

Pitts, other lawmakers and even some fellow regents have accused Hall of being on a "witch hunt" targeting UT-Austin President Bill Powers. Additionally, Hall made headlines after it was revealed that several lawsuits involving his company were not disclosed on his initial application for the regent position.

Both are cited in House Resolution 230, which, in addition to other grievances, contends that Regent Hall "may have obtained that office through misrepresentation of material facts regarding his experience and qualifications" and "may have abused that office by making numerous unreasonably burdensome, wasteful, and intrusive requests for information."

 

If HR 230 is adopted — Pitts previously told the Tribune he had the necessary support — then a House Special Committee on Impeachment would form, consisting of seven members appointed by Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio.

According to the resolution, that committee will conduct "a full and fair investigation." If it determines it is warranted, it will file articles of impeachment against Hall and any other state officer who they feel "may have engaged in misconduct, malfeasance, abuse of office, or incompetency." Those articles will be considered by the House before being sent to the Senate, which would then convene as a court of impeachment to decide the case.

Once the process gets under way, it could tie Hall's hands to a significant extent. The Texas Constitution says that officers against whom articles of impeachment are pending "shall be suspended from the exercise of the duties of their office" during that time. A vote for removal would require at least two-thirds of the Senate.

The current 30-day special session is scheduled to end by Tuesday. Under Texas Government Code, lawmakers can start impeachment proceedings during the session and continue them once the session is over "through committee or agents."

Hall has said that his efforts are about increasing transparency in the university system. In May, when asked about legislators' desire for him to alter his behavior, he told the Tribune, "I appreciate they have a job to do, and while they may not always understand our role, we are doing our best to fulfill our obligations to the students, our institutions and the people of Texas."

The impeachment of a university system regent in Texas would be extremely rare event. The closest a regent has come to being ousted in such a manner was in 2007, when Gov. Rick Perry, who appoints all the regents, notified the Senate that he wanted embattled Texas Southern University board chairwoman Belinda Griffin gone. She ultimately resigned.

As for Hall's current situation, Perry's office issued a statement saying, "It is as appropriate for a university’s board of regents to demand transparency from member schools, as it is for the legislature to demand transparency from a board of regents."

But the governor's office also expressed concern that the pushback against Hall may be an attempt to conceal emails from lawmakers requesting admission to the University of Texas at Austin School of Law on behalf of others. "These threats could have a profoundly chilling effect on the mission of regents to hold member schools accountable and ask necessary, if sometimes difficult questions," the statement said.

We will update this post with more information as it becomes available.

 

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