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Texas high court offers UT System regent glimmer of hope in records case

Wallace Hall is set to leave the UT System Board of Regents in February, but his lawsuit over access to student records is still pending at the Texas Supreme Court.

University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall talks with colleague Gene Powell during a break at a regents' meeting  on May 14, 2014.

The Texas Supreme Court this week agreed to expedite filings in the case between Regent Wallace Hall and the University of Texas System chancellor he oversees, injecting a glimmer of hope into what had seemed like a doomed quest by Hall. 

The court on Tuesday ordered Hall to submit briefings on the merits of his case by Dec. 2. Lawyers representing UT System Chancellor Bill McRaven will be required to respond by Dec. 12. Hall appealed his case to the state's highest civil court in September. 

Hall is seeking access to confidential student records related to admissions, hoping to gain more information about an admissions scandal involving students with powerful connections who were admitted to the University of Texas at Austin even though they had low scores.

McRaven has offered redacted versions, saying he needs to protect student information. The full UT System Board of Regents agreed and voted to deny the records, but Hall argues that the denial is illegal and warned in legal filings that it sets a dangerous precedent. So far, a state district judge and an appeals court have upheld the regents' decision. 

Hall has been a controversial presence on the board for years. Critics have accused him of conducting a witch hunt against top UT-Austin leaders when he asked for hundreds of thousands of pages of records. Supporters say he has helped uncover troubling facts in university admissions and other areas. 

Until now, it seemed unlikely that Hall would even get to make his case to the state Supreme Court. His term as regent expires in February, and he would have no claim to the records after that. Even with the expedited schedule, the question remains whether the case can be resolved in time. 

In the one-page filing notifying lawyers of the expedited schedule, a clerk notes that Justice Eva Guzman objected to the sped-up process and preferred to give the lawyers more time. 

Disclosure: The University of Texas System and University of Texas at Austin have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune. A complete list of Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.

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