UT System Board of Regents votes to waive 'limited' attorney-client privileges

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At a specially called meeting Monday, the UT System Board of Regents voted to address issues of attorney-client privilege that have arisen during the ongoing investigation of Regent Wallace Hall, including waiving the privilege in an unspecified, limited manner as recommended by
outside counsel.

The motion, filed by Regent Jeffery Hildebrand, recommended the board authorize Chairman Paul Foster to seek the opinion of the attorney general regarding the obligations and preservations of attorney-client privilege during the ongoing impeachment proceedings. Gov. Rick Perry appointed Hildebrand to the board
in February.

The board passed the motion with six supporting votes, while regents Hall, Brenda Pejovich and Alex Cranberg abstained. In the meeting, Hall said he declined to vote because of his involvement in the issues discussed in the motion but said he otherwise would have voted against it. Pejovich and Cranberg did not provide reasons for their
abstentions.

Attorney-client privilege allows certain communications between clients and their attorneys to be confidential and remain private, unless a court forces a
disclosure.

Questions about the limits of attorney-client privilege arose last month when Barry Burgdorf, former UT System vice chancellor and general counsel, said he could not disclose certain information in his testimony in front of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations. The committee is currently investigating Hall for overstepping his duties as a regent and conducting a “witch hunt” against President William Powers Jr.  

In his testimony, Burgdorf said “there is a clear intent to get rid of Bill Powers,” but declined to answer other questions on the basis of attorney-client privilege. 

Burgdorf stepped down in March, several months after his review of a UT School of Law forgivable loan program, which concluded Powers was unaware of the program when it was ongoing. Burgdorf said Hall was displeased the review did not implicate Powers in the $500,000 forgivable loan granted to Larry Sager, former dean of the law school

“It’s my understanding that Regent Hall wanted [the report] to be more of a look at President Powers’ involvement,” Burgdorf said in his testimony.

At a specially called board meeting in October, Foster requested a new examination of the board’s responsibilities and treatment of transparency as a result of the ongoing investigation against Hall.“In light of [the recent focus on best practices for state governing boards], I believe today is the right time to begin a new discussion on the best ways this board should operate going forward,” Foster said in the meeting. “I have spent [a] significant amount of time thinking about how we can fully discharge our responsibility in the most efficient and transparent way … I am sure each member of the board has done the same.”

The House Select Committee on Transparency will resume hearing testimony Tuesday and Wednesday, though Hall is not expected to testify.