The Texas Supreme Court announced Friday that it will decide whether University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall Jr. should be provided records from an internal investigation into favoritism in admissions to UT.
Acknowledging that Hall’s term as regent ends Feb. 1, the court also set an unusually rapid pace by scheduling oral arguments for Jan. 11 — giving both sides only a dozen days to prepare for an event that features frequent interruptions from justices seeking input on often esoteric points of law.
The pace shouldn’t be a problem, Hall lawyer Joe Knight said Friday, because both sides recently submitted their legal briefs, which also were set on an expedited schedule.
“Everything should be pretty fresh on the minds of all the lawyers involved,” he said.
If Hall were to prevail at the Supreme Court, Knight said he believes there will be enough time to review the records, which are electronically stored, and formulate a report for the rest of the Board of Regents.
“While his term expires Feb. 1, he retains the office until his successor is nominated by the governor, confirmed by the Senate and sworn in — and we really don’t know what date that will be,” Knight said. “It’s not like he has stacks of paper to go through or would have to crawl through a warehouse. He’ll be able to very efficiently skim through things that may not be important and focus on those things that are.”
First, however, Hall would have to reverse two consecutive losses when lower courts dismissed his lawsuit — most recently in September, when the Austin-based 3rd Court of Appeals ruled that UT Chancellor Bill McRaven didn’t act outside his authority in denying access to the records.
The legal case began in June 2015 when Hall sued McRaven to force the release of documents, including confidential student records, from the investigation.
Hall argues that McRaven must turn over emails, notes and other records from an admissions investigation that found that then-UT President Bill Powers sometimes ordered students to be admitted, despite subpar academic records, at the urging of legislators and other influential people.
It would set a dangerous precedent, Hall told the state Supreme Court, if university officials were allowed to withhold information from regents who are sworn to oversee the school.
McRaven has argued that Hall doesn’t meet the federal standard of “legitimate educational interest” to warrant access to private student files collected in the investigation.