Grand Jury: Fire UT Regent Hall

No charges over UT witch hunt, but a call for his removal

UT System Regent Wallace Hall: no criminal charges for abuse of office, but a Travis County grand jury deems him unfit for office
UT System Regent Wallace Hall: no criminal charges for abuse of office, but a Travis County grand jury deems him unfit for office

Wallace Hall needs to be removed as a University of Texas System Regent. That was the conclusion of a Travis County Grand Jury in an opinion issued late yesterday.

The jury declined to issue criminal indictments against Hall over allegations of abuse of power. However, in a four page ruling, the jurors stated that they were "appalled at the Regent's unaccountable and abusive behavior," and called for his replacement post haste.

The point of contention was the 800,000 pages of open records requests that Hall demanded, a fishing expedition that cost UT around $1 million. The sole purpose seemed to be finding reasons to get rid of UT President Bill Powers (the ironic side effect was that Hall actually turned his nemesis into a virtual folk hero.) The jury wrote, "Hall never divulged what purpose or goal he had padlocked in his mind," further stating that he "seemingly intended to deteriorate the systems in place." The end result was that he was inadvertently given unredacted student files: When he was asked not to release them, he ignored UT System legal staff and passed them to the Attorney General's Office. This resulted in the names of some students getting out into the press.

The jury was also highly suspicious of Hall's intentions, noting that "it does not appear that he discussed his intent with the other regents to gain consensus on this level of use of university resources." In fact, it has already become a major source of discussion as to why, if Hall was so hellbent on cleaning house, he never suggested reforms to his fellow regents, instead mounting a witch hunt against Powers, placing destructive and distracting pressure on UT staff, and, when challenged, claiming a grand conspiracy against him.

So while he avoids another court date, Hall now faces a legal document saying he has no reason to rule over UT. If he does go, then his will be the third head to roll. Powers stands down this summer, while former UT System Chancellor Francisco Cigarroa has already resigned, replaced by Admiral Bill McRaven.

The jury also points a finger at the UT Regents for allowing this to happen. The jurors recommend that they revise their policies to require board approval on high expenditure requests by individual regents; also, that regents need to clarify what they are requesting and why; and that they need to adhere to higher standards of student confidentiality.

Now the ball seems to be back in the Legislature's court. In 2014, Speaker Joe Straus formed the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations under Rep. Dan Flynn, R-Van, specifically to investigate the allegations of abuse of power. The committee initially drafted articles of impeachment against Hall, then decided to simply censure him as a stop-gap until the grand jury made its decision.

The question now is, will the House move on with the articles of impeachment? Flynn and Co-Chair Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, issued this statement:

The grand jury report that came out this morning demonstrates why our committee needed to investigate Regent Hall and his behavior. Taxpayers expect their elected representatives to provide oversight of state agencies and executive appointees. Such oversight is especially important when appointees abuse their office. With this investigation now complete and with an outstanding new chancellor and strong new regents in place, we are optimistic that the UT System is ready to move forward and focus on the needs of its students and our state.

The implication is that there are no plans to move forward in this jam packed session. However, with Hall's former political patron, Gov. Rick Perry, no longer there to defend him, it still seems his position becomes more untenable by the hour.

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KEYWORDS FOR THIS POST

UT Austin, Texas House of Representatives, Bill Powers, Francisco Cigarroa, Impeachment, Wallace Hall, Rick Perry

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