State legislators took a step closer to possibly impeaching UT System regent Wallace Hall at a public hearing on Monday, examining what precedents are at hand for the impeachment of appointed state officials.
Hall has been accused by lawmakers of micromanaging the University, because of his multiple large open records requests for information from UT. Last month, Texas Speaker of the House Joe Straus, R-San Antonio, released a proclamation that expanded the powers of the Transparency Committee to investigate executive appointees such as university system regents.
In April, The Texas Tribune revealed that Hall did not list several lawsuits he was involved in on his original regent application. Chief Legislative Counsel Jeff Archer told the committee that the state has no standards for what actions justify impeachment.
Members of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations heard testimony from the chief legislative counsel, legal adviser to the House, on the state’s impeachment process and how it will conduct the investigation going forward. Archer said only two public officials have been successfully impeached in the state’s history.
Texas Gov. James Edward Ferguson, elected in 1915, was impeached by the state House in July 1917, shortly after he withdrew the University of Texas’ entire budget appropriations when UT refused to remove faculty that Ferguson wanted fired. The episode brought to light a number of other questionable activities under Ferguson at the time, leading to Ferguson’s early resignation later that year.
State District Judge O.P. Carillo was also impeached in 1975 for abuse of power and the misuse of county funds.
“In the case of Ferguson, there were strong political factions,” Archer said. “Many of the groups that trigged ill will for impeachment at that time may have had nothing to do with the actual grounds for impeachment.”
Archer said no state appointees have ever been impeached.
The committee plans to hold a public hearing near the end of August. Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston, said the committee will use its subpoena power going forward, although Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, cautioned his fellow legislators to have an open mind during the process.
“I would hate to do all this work if, in the beginning, we already have our minds made up,” Fischer said.
After the investigation, the committee can propose articles of impeachment to the House based on its findings. If a majority in the House votes in favor of charging Hall with impeachment, it would be up to the Senate to conduct a trial and remove Hall by another two-thirds vote.
Follow Jacob Kerr on Twitter @jacobrkerr.