Committee Recalls Subpoena for UT Regent Hall

Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, and Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, speak with a lawyer during a break at a House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations hearing on October 23rd, 2013
Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, and Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Canton, speak with a lawyer during a break at a House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations hearing on October 23rd, 2013

Updated, 1:40 p.m.:

Mere hours after issuing a subpoena to get University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall to appear before a legislative committee, members of the committee abruptly recalled it.

Committee Co-chair Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, said members had acted too quickly in issuing the subpoena, prior to checking their own schedule. The committee members were not expecting to reconvene until Dec. 18; they had subpoenaed hall for Dec. 10.

Rusty Hardin, the comittee's special counsel, said whether the regent will be issued an invitation or a subpoena for those dates is still under consideration by the committee.

Original story: A legislative committee mulling the impeachment of embattled University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall has issued subpoenas both for his testimony and for that of several university system officials.

The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations convened Tuesday to begin two days of hearings in an ongoing probe that could determine whether articles of impeachment should be filed against Hall, who lawmakers have accused of being on a “witch hunt” to oust University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers.

Hall, who has filed requests for information from the university that have yielded more than 800,000 documents and hamstrung its attorneys, previously indicated he wanted to be subpoenaed ahead of this week's hearings if he was expected to testify. When that didn't happen, he said he would not be available, prompting speculation about when and if he would ever testify.

Before Hall's Tuesday subpoena, the legislative committee had a tense back-and-forth with system representatives, who requested that their employees be subpoenaed, too — an effort to ensure they were being forced to part with information, not handing it over voluntarily. 

On Oct. 25, Barry McBee, the UT System's vice chancellor for government relations, suggested to the committee that UT System employees would come willingly — without subpoenas. In its hearing this week, the committee, which is investigating Hall's behavior, expects to hear from Dan Sharphorn, the system's vice chancellor and general counsel; Francie Frederick, general counsel to the board of regents; and System Senior Attorney Barbara Holthaus.

But when the witnesses arrived at the hearing, they asked for a "friendly subpoena," which Committee Co-chair Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, called “a complete change” from their previously stated policy. Committee members made it clear that they did not appreciate the about-face.

Philip Hilder, the UT System's outside counsel, explained that he did not believe the request would be an issue, noting that previous witnesses — including a former system official and employees of the University of Texas at Austin — had been subpoenaed by the committee.

He said that a subpoena was necessary to provide the witnesses with "a level of protection."

State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, said the committee wanted better communication from the UT System and its outside counsel. Speaking with the system's outside attorneys about what he would have to do in order to speak with their top in-house legal professionals, Martinez Fischer expressed frustration over having to "keep up with several layers of lawyers."

After a tense exchange with Hilder and McBee, the committee voted to issue subpoenas for Sharphorn, Frederick and Holthaus. They also went ahead and issued a subpoena for Hall, who they expect to testify on Dec. 10.

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