Grand jury condemns Wallace Hall's actions but does not find grounds for indictment

AddThis

UT System Regent Wallace Hall prepares to leave after a UT System Board of Regents meeting on April 29.

Photo Credit: Charlie Pearce | Daily Texan Staff

A grand jury investigating UT System Regent Wallace Hall declined to indict him for possible violations of student privacy laws but issued a report calling for his removal from office.

A Special Investigation unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s Office asked the grand jury in October to consider whether there was probable cause to indict Hall for violating student privacy, failing to disclose material information on his original regent application or exceeding his role as regent with massive open records requests to the University.

Although the grand jury declined to indict Hall, they did take the unusual step of issuing a public report condemning Hall’s actions.

“We have chosen to issue this report because, as citizens, we are appalled at the behavior of the regent subject to the investigation,” the report, issued Tuesday morning, said. “Based on the information we reviewed, we are appalled at the Regent’s unaccountable and abusive behavior.”

Over the course of the last several years, Hall filed requests for more than 800,000 pages of documents as part of personal investigations he launched into UT administrative practices. University administrators said the documents cost more than $1 million to prepare. The report condemned Hall’s conduct when making these requests.

“Hall never divulged what purpose or goal he had padlocked in his mind before launching this immense barrage of records requests, rapid firing them in a fashion seemingly intended to deteriorate the systems in place,” the report said. “Based on the size of the University’s open records request staff, his deadlines were unreasonable.”

The grand jury also accused Hall of hypocrisy in his campaign for transparency.

“Regent Hall demonstrated neither accountability nor transparency in his actions,” the report said. “His refusal to speak with the Legislative Committee or the Grand Jury implies a disregard for the transparency and accountability for his actions.”

UT System spokeswoman Jenny LaCoste-Caputo declined to comment on the grand jury’s report. 

In a rare public interview at The Texas Tribune Festival in 2013, Hall defended his actions to state Sen. Kirk Watson (D-Austin).

“[UT is] the flagship, and it should be the leader for all of our institutions,” Hall said. “I find that there’s a lack of accountability in a lot of what we see.”

A year later, he again denied any wrongdoing.

“It would be nicer if they closed the file and moved on, but I’ll go through the process,” Hall said at the Tribune Festival in 2014. “I am very comfortable with all the actions that I took with those documents.”

In May, board chairman Paul Foster publicly asked Hall to resign. Although Foster said he did not believe Hall was guilty of violating board rules or policies, he said it would be best for the System if Hall stepped down.

“I do not believe you have violated any current board rules or policy and I do not think a vote on your service is appropriate,” Foster said. “I urge you to take a selfless step to benefit the UT System and resign from the board. … I believe this step would be the most beneficial action you could take at this time.”

In July, after over a year of investigation, a House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations formally censured Hall. The committee had previously determined there were sufficient grounds for Hall’s impeachment but declined to draft specific articles of impeachment in favor of the censure.

At the time, state Rep. Carol Alvarado (D-Houston), committee co-chair, said pursuing Hall’s impeachment was not off the table.

“A vote of censure is not a vote against impeachment,” Alvarado said. “However, we believe our investigation would benefit by taking some formal action at this time.”

Hall’s term is set to expire February 2017.