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Committee Votes That Grounds for Impeachment Exist for UT Regent

UPDATED: The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations voted Monday that there are grounds to impeach University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall.

House Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations chairs Carol Alvarado, D-Houston and Dan Flynn, R-Canton, explain the 7-1 vote to recommend drawing up articles of impeachment against UT Regent Wallace Hall, Jr. on May 12, 2014.

Updated, 1:45 p.m.:

In a 7-1 vote, the Texas House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations voted Monday that there are grounds to impeach University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall. The committee adjourned without voting on whether to draft articles of impeachment. Its next meeting is scheduled for May 21.

The only "no" vote came from state Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, who said he felt like the committee had not sufficiently heard from all sides of the conflict.

Committee co-chair Dan Flynn, R-Van, has repeatedly referred to Hall's refusal to cooperate with or testify before the committee, despite being offered opportunities to do so, as "a slap in the face." 

In a rare public statement following Monday's vote, Hall said, "If the Transparency Committee desires transparency, it should not seek ways to interfere with investigations that would expose improper conduct at the University of Texas."

Hall's personal investigations into the University of Texas at Austin administration are what landed him in hot water with some state lawmakers.

"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,” he said.

The committee's co-chairs indicated that the next steps could take some time as they prepare articles of impeachment and determine which ones a majority of the committee approves of sending to the full House.

"We still have a long way to go in this process," Flynn told reporters.

Original story, May 12, 2014:

A legislative committee investigating University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall is expected to take a major step as soon as Monday in its inquiry. Exactly what that step would be, however, remains unknown.

"I could not tell you," state Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, co-chairwoman the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, said Thursday about what would happen, "because members have different opinions about what needs to take place next."

Hall, who has conducted extensive investigations of the University of Texas at Austin, has been accused by some lawmakers of being on a "witch hunt" targeting UT-Austin President Bill Powers. Hall's attorneys say that he has done nothing wrong and has only fulfilled his duties of looking into actions of administrators that he believed to be questionable.

The committee, which is scheduled to hold a hearing Monday, has the authority to recommend articles of impeachment against Hall to the full Texas House, which would consider them before voting on whether to send the matter to the Texas Senate for a trial. The committee could also opt for a reprimand or do nothing.

In April, Houston attorney Rusty Hardin, who was hired to serve as the committee's special counsel, issued a report making the case for four potential bases for impeaching Hall: the regent's allegedly burdensome demands for information from UT-Austin, his handling of private student information, his alleged encouragement of negative employment action against individuals who testified before the committee, and allegedly abusive behavior during a disagreement about the university's capital campaign totals.

Hall’s lawyers have accused the committee of being "engaged in a process to manipulate official proceedings for the purpose of interfering in the board's investigations, personnel matters and other activities."

The matter relating to private student information was referred to the public integrity unit of the Travis County district attorney's office, where officials have opened an investigation.

In the weekend leading up to the committee’s expected vote, newspapers have featured prominent voices weighing in on the subject.

In the Austin American-Statesman, former Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Wallace Jefferson reminded readers that the standards for impeachment in Texas are lower in Texas than in Washington, D.C. The committee must determine whether Hall's actions as a regent constituted "misconduct, malfeasance, misfeasance, abuse of office, or incompetency,” he wrote. 

"This is not the same as asking whether those are appropriate grounds for impeachment," Jefferson added. "That determination has already been made."

Meanwhile, The Wall Street Journal ’s editorial board argued that Hall's "real offense has been to expose a cozy and possibly corrupt relationship between politicians and the university." Hall's lawyers have cited two emails from state lawmakers to Powers as evidence of potential favoritism in the university's admissions process.

Heading into the transparency committee’s Monday hearing, the panel’s eight members are divided on how to proceed.

In documents first reported by The Texas Tribune, committee co-chairman Dan Flynn, R-Van, indicated that he did not support Hall’s impeachment, but was supportive of pressuring Hall to resign. State Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, has asked Gov. Rick Perry three times to call for Hall's resignation— and directly appealed to the regent at least once — to no avail.  

State Rep. Eric Johnson, D-Dallas, has indicated a desire to postpone a vote until the Travis County prosecutors conducting a criminal investigation Hall have announced their findings. State Rep. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock, told the Tribune it was his desire and intent to "bring closure to this matter and the process that provides nothing positive to the educational institutions, the taxpayers, the appointment process or the Legislature."

Alvarado said she is hopeful that there will be some sort of vote Monday.

"I think the committee has done everything we can do shy of a vote," she said.

Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. Rusty Hardin was a major donor to the Tribune in 2012 and 2013. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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Higher education State government Carol Alvarado Dan Flynn Lyle Larson Texas Legislature