On Feb. 6, the State of Texas authorized the payment of $157,803 to Rusty Hardin — general counsel for the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations — for his work in the committee’s investigation into the actions of UT System Regent Wallace Hall, according to invoices provided from the Texas Legislative Council.
Hardin originally billed the state $163,302 for his work from August to October of last year, but the state contested certain charges, including several for “air flight insurance,” marked at just more than $20. Hardin originally billed $508 for dinner at an Italian restaurant, but later requested to cancel the charge.
The House Committee is trying to determine whether Hall overstepped his duties as a regent after he filed open record requests with the University for more than 800,000 pages of information. Some state legislators have accused him of conducting a “witch-hunt” against President William Powers Jr.
At one committee hearing in November, UT System lawyers testified Hall was mistakenly given access to private student information — possibly in violation of federal privacy laws — which he subsequently shared with his private attorney. During testimony, Francie Frederick, general counsel for the Board of Regents, said regents must have a valid, job-related reason to see protected information.
“I’m not a FERPA expert, but my understanding is that the regent must have a legitimate educational interest to see FERPA [documents], something related to the regent’s duties,” Frederick said.
At the same hearing, State Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, requested a review and response from the UT System regarding the potential violation and motioned to have Hardin review Hall’s actions.
Phillip Hilder, outside counsel to the UT System, submitted a report to the committee stating there was “no credible evidence” that Hall violated any state or federal laws regarding information protection. Hilder billed the state nearly $200,000 for his contributions from September to November of last year, according to reports from The Dallas Morning News.
Hardin has yet to submit his report on Hall’s potential violation of privacy laws, but State Rep. Carol Alvarado, D-Houston and co-chairwoman of the committee, said she is looking forward to his findings.
“We appreciate [the System] getting this to us in a timely manner, and I’m looking forward to reviewing the main report from our own general counsel [Hardin],” Alvarado said.