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Texas senator got $477k for supposed ‘cameo’ appearance in Wallace Hall lawsuit

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Part 4 of 32 in the series Trouble in Texas
AP photo

HALL: Some would rather not delve into Hall’s legal history, but he has nothing to hide.

By Jon Cassidy | Watchdog.org

HOUSTON — There’s only one reason the powers that be have accused Wallace Hall of failing to disclose lawsuits on his application to be a regent of the University of Texas System: It allows them to throw around words like “cover-up,” “concealment,” and “misrepresentation.”

The charge is as flimsy as the Longhorns’ defense this season, and just as easily exposed.

The one who truly has something to hide is one of those lawmakers — state Sen. Royce West — who made $477,977 defending a man who defrauded Hall out of millions of dollars.

There’s nothing in the case that discredits Hall, but lawmakers may yet try to seize on some factoid they can distort, as their other accusations against Hall have been disintegrating.

Royce West feigned ignorance of Hall's lawsuit, but he made $477,000 on the case.

Royce West feigned ignorance of Hall’s lawsuit, but he made $477,000 on the case.

Instead of admitting that he’d billed for thousands of hours on the case, West gave the Texas Tribune the idea he’d just made a “cameo” appearance. That way, he could help push the narrative that lawmakers had been kept in the dark.

“When you don’t have disclosure, the Senate doesn’t have the opportunity to look at everything when considering the nomination,” West said.

West’s contribution to the case included making money off a perk called a legislative continuance, which allows attorneys serving in the Legislature to get trials automatically postponed. West also got into a loud fight at a party with Judge Carlos Cortez — they reportedly had to be physically separated — and then tried to get the judge tossed off the case over it.

In court records, West denies he “provoked Judge Cortez into a personal dispute,” calling the claim “a bald-faced lie.” Rather, the judge verbally attacked him, he said.

As part of a deal to get a trial delay, West had promised the judge he wouldn’t use his continuance to further stall a case that had been dragging on for years.

When the time for trial came, he went back on his word and filed for a continuance, but the promise was on the record: “I gave my word that I would waive that. And I — that’s my word.”

The state appeals and supreme courts rejected West’s attempts to get Cortez recused, as well as his legislative continuance, and a flurry of other spurious appeals. Cortez did end up recusing himself voluntarily.

When Hall finally prevailed, he won the largest judgment in any Texas court that year: $37,770,700. The jury found that his former partner, Bill Esping, had maliciously declared bankruptcy in an attempt to seize control of the business from Hall, who had asked for his money back early on.

Esping was reduced to suing his own lawyers and borrowing money from his mother to pay Hall back, according to an affidavit he gave recently. Cortez wrote that West’s team had engaged in “spurious and egregious misconduct.”

In all, it was sweet justice for Hall, at least until a brood of vipers tried to turn his vindication against him.

Private chicanery is bad enough, but these lawmakers are attempting to deceive the whole of Texas to silence the one man asking questions about their schemes to get people into the University of Texas at Austin.

They can only do this because the people who are paid to ask questions — the media — aren’t asking them. They can’t even make up their mind what they want to charge him with, or rather, they keep inventing charges to replace ones that have already been refuted.

Thomas K. Lindsay of the Texas Public Policy Foundation recently laid bare the ever-evolving pretext, listing several allegations that has evaporated upon closer inspection.

Last week, we reported on thousands of lawsuits involving current regents that hadn’t been disclosed on their applications. That fact utterly demolishes the argument lawmakers are relying on: that Hall’s application form is grounds for impeachment.

Texas Tribune’s Reeve Hamilton published a story about Rep. Jim Pitts admitting he wrote a letter to get his son into UT’s law school, yet Hamilton still managed to obscure the central question: Who got the letter?

Was it a letter of recommendation to the admissions office? That would’ve been pathetic, making his son look friendless, but it’s not wrong, not something he’d have to confess.

Or was Pitts pulling strings with UT President Bill Powers? This only touches on the central question in the entire controversy, yet Hamilton doesn’t even ask.

Lawmakers are counting on an unquestioning media. What could they possibly say if asked why they’re singling out Hall? If the principle is that failure to list all litigation by name and date is an impeachable offense, then the Legislature will have to impeach almost every appointee in Texas.

What is there in those lawsuits that Hall’s supposed to have covered up? They keep dropping dark hints, but they’ve got nothing.

Or reporters could be even blunter in their questions: Why are you pretending that an application form is grounds for impeachment when state law says otherwise?

Pitts’ impeachment resolution leads off its three accusations with the charge that Hall failed to disclose lawsuits on his application to be a regent. Yet state law holds that an “officer in this state may not be removed from office for an act the officer may have committed before the officer’s election to office.”

Regents are appointed, not elected, but impeachment is plainly reserved for abuse of office, not for any nit you might pick out of a lifetime. Why can’t Pitts find a credible accusation related to Hall’s time in office?

What are these accusers left with? Patricia Kilday Hart, a Houston Chronicle columnist, assures us “the Legislature’s ire toward Hall goes a lot further than the lawsuit,” but that’s half-right.

Their ire goes further, because they are irate at the man who is trying to expose their influence-peddling. Their case doesn’t.

Other than lawsuits, Pitts’ resolution offers just two other rationales: Hall has asked for too many records, and he’s guilty of “giving the… misleading impression to certain… personnel… that certain… requests for information made by him were approved by the board of regents…”

Oh dear. He gave somebody a misleading impression? Was there a wink involved? Some sort of stern look? Can’t we send him to prison for this, whatever it might be?

Of course, all of the board’s actions are public record, and UT had to turn over its records because the chancellor’s office ordered it to do so, not because of impression-giving.

As for any reporter or editor who entertains the notion there is something wrong with filing public information requests: May you one day awake to the realization that that is actually your job, and may you go do that job, and may you antagonize powerful interests in so doing, and may these interests complain to your boss that these “burdensome, wasteful, and intrusive requests for information” have “interfered with the proper functioning” of their office, and may your boss agree with them and fire you. And may this leave you without dental coverage, so that all your teeth fall out, except for one to give you a toothache.

We are talking about an institution that has budgeted 154,538 audit hours for the next school year. We’re supposed to believe it somehow can’t afford a little staff time to gather information for the officials actually charged with oversight?

As the various accusations by these lawmakers are proven to be in bad faith, they are left with few options. So they’ve hired an investigator to help them scare up some more plausible reasons for impeachment.

That makes this the perfect time to ask everyone involved a simple question: Why do you want to impeach Wallace Hall?

If they don’t have a good reason now, they’re going on the suspect list for the admissions scandal that will break after this impeachment falls to pieces.

Contact Jon Cassidy at jon@watchdog.org at @jpcassidy000.

Part of 32 in the series Trouble in Texas
  1. Texas’ Rep. Pitts announces retirement after improper influence story
  2. University of Texas regents show support for Wallace Hall
  3. Case against UT regent Wallace Hall is a sham — here’s proof
  4. Texas senator got $477k for supposed ‘cameo’ appearance in Wallace Hall lawsuit
  5. Lawmaker admits pulling strings on UT admissions
  6. Trustee accused of crime for rejecting dodgy accounting
  7. Longhorns: Senator used clout in UT law school admissions
  8. Children of Texas lawmakers get into UT School of Law, but struggle to pass bar exam
  9. Chancellor is probing favoritism in UT admissions
  10. UT report: Charge against Hall is legally ‘absurd’
  11. Attorney in UT case hides six-figure charges despite terms of contract
  12. University of Texas clout scandal grows as new e-mails surface
  13. Four more get into UT Law despite low LSATs
  14. Reports on UT favoritism, impeachment expected soon
  15. Attorney: Secret tape covered up by lawmakers proves regent’s innocence
  16. Dozens of UT Law’s least qualified students are connected politically
  17. University of Texas uncovers admissions corruption, halts investigation
  18. UT admissions: Straus, Branch, Pitts pulled strings
  19. Who got the 128? UT Law admits students with bad LSAT scores
  20. Patrick’s win may doom Hall impeachment effort
  21. Chancellor promises complete investigation of UT admissions
  22. Board to decide UT president’s fate Thursday
  23. Texas politicians smarten up, ditch UT pres this time around
  24. Tribune story may have doomed UT’s Powers
  25. Academics condone the privilege they denounce
  26. Three essential stories on the UT admissions scandal
  27. Texas AG Greg Abbott embraces Roe v. Wade
  28. Roe v. Wade is AG’s new pretext for blocking Texas law school investigation
  29. Two UT regents pressed for records destruction
  30. New crime invented for Hall: assisted guesswork
  31. Texas lawmaker failed to disclose his own clout letter in UT flap
  32. Texas legislator Fischer insists on role in UT investigation

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Jon Cassidy is the Texas bureau chief for Watchdog.org. He also writes a weekly column on politics for The American Spectator. He was formerly a reporter and editor for The Orange County Register in California and a reporter at The Hill in Washington, D.C. His work has been published by Fox News, Reason, The Federalist, Human Events, and other publications. He is a 2014 Robert Novak Journalism Fellow and a graduate of the University of Southern California. He and his wife Michelle live just outside Houston with their two children.