Wallace Hall Case Will Come Before Grand Jury

Regent Wallace L. Hall, Jr. of the University of Texas System at the regular meeting of the Board on May 15, 2014
Regent Wallace L. Hall, Jr. of the University of Texas System at the regular meeting of the Board on May 15, 2014

Editor's note: This story has been updated throughout.

University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall, speaking at a Texas Tribune event on Thursday, said he does not feel "in any way diminished" after a recent vote to admonish and censure him by a legislative committee. He also said he was "comfortable" with his actions being investigated by the Travis County district attorney's office, which has confirmed that it intends to put the case before a grand jury in the near future.

Hall has been a lightning rod for controversy for much of his time on the system's board of regents, to which he was appointed by Gov. Rick Perry in 2011. Much of his time has been digging into the operations at the University of Texas at Austin, which is also his alma mater.

Hall has been accused by lawmakers and even fellow regents of being on a "witch hunt" to oust Bill Powers, the university's president. At Thursday's event, Hall said that notion was untrue.

"Where's the motive?" he asked. 

 

Hall contended that he was duty-bound to look into activities at the university that he believed were not above board. He has alleged that the school's admissions are subject to undue political influence, questioned the accounting in their capital campaign and pushed for further investigation into a controversial payment structure at the law school.

Hall said he had conducted his investigations in a "collegial" manner. The regent laid the blame for the controversy surrounding his service on the board at the feet of legislative leaders, particularly Lt. Gov. David Dewhurst and Speaker Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, who he said were eager to remove him from office for their own purposes.

He said he does not believe that there was — or had been — enough support in the House to impeach him, as some lawmakers have asserted. Hall said Straus went to the governor's office and offered to drop the impeachment proceedings if Hall would resign, an assertion challenged by a spokesman for the speaker. "Speaker Straus never told the Governor's office that the impeachment investigation would end if Regent Hall resigned," Jason Embry said in an email.

On Aug. 11, 2014, after investigating Hall for more than a year, the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations voted 6-1 to admonish and censure him for “misconduct, incompetency in the performance of official duties, or behavior unbefitting a nominee for and holder of a state office.” The committee had previously approved a motion saying that the grounds to move forward with articles of impeachment against Hall existed, and the lawmakers left the door open to pursuing such action in the future. 

"If the transparency committee truly thought I had violated the law, don't you think they should have brought articles of impeachment against me?" Hall said on Thursday.

The committee's investigation, particularly a determination that Hall's sharing of private student information with his lawyers may have been inappropriate, did prompt Travis County prosecutors to launch a criminal investigation of Hall. That investigation is ongoing. 

Gregg Cox, the director of the public integrity unit in the Travis County district attorney's office, told the Tribune on Wednesday that he intends to take witnesses to the grand jury in the near future and is hopeful that the case will be resolved by the end of the year, if not sooner.

Hall's term on the board does not expire until 2017. He said he intends to remain on the board unless he is removed. 

 

Meanwhile, the landscape at UT is changing rapidly.

In July, under pressure, Powers submitted his resignation, which will be effective in June 2015. Francisco Cigarroa, the system's chancellor, will be stepping down at the end of the year. 

At Thursday's event, Hall had only kind words for Cigarroa, saying he had never met a "kinder, smarter man." He asserted that before he was a regent, Cigarroa had come to the board with concerns about Powers in 2010, but the board declined to take any action against the president. 

"I frankly think the board failed him," Hall said of the chancellor.

Cigarroa will be replaced by Admiral William H. McRaven, the former head of U.S. Special Operations Command.

When asked what qualities he would like to see in the next president of UT-Austin, Hall said he would hope for someone from outside the university who had big business experience.

Hall indicated that he did not have much information about the status of an external investigation of the university's admissions processes — which he said are not transparent enough — that the system has commissioned. "We don’t know the scope of what’s taking place," he said. "We want to have the highest quality, highest integrity admissions process we can."

He denied ever attempting to exert influence on the admissions process himself. He also pushed back on the notion that the board had grown dysfunctional. For example, he said he did not object to a fellow regent's secret recording of an executive session meeting earlier this year. Still, he said the board could do some things better.

"As a board and as a system, I think we've failed in our ability to investigate ourselves," he said.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here