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A Step Toward Impeachment?

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What follows are the minutes of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, which met yesterday in the Agricultural Museum. The main subject was the possible impeachment of University of Texas Regent Wallace Hall (pictured above):

AUSTIN (7/10/13, 1W.014, 11:30 AM)

The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, under the direction of Chairs Flynn and Alvarado, met today in the Agricultural Museum for an organizational meeting.

Chairman Flynn said the committee is an “investigative committee” and won’t be a “witch-hunt.”

Rep. Larson inquired if the committee will be impeaching UT Regent Wallace Hall.  Both Chairman Flynn and Chair Alvarado said the committee can only recommend impeachment and it will be up to the House to determine if impeachment is necessary.  Reviewing the 2 page list of potential witnesses, Rep. Martinez Fischer noted UT Regent Brenda Pejovich was a potential witness and expressed his concern of the testimony of UT staff members “not entirely [being] forthcoming,” alluding to the regents. power and authority over staff.  Due to the potential for intimidation and lengthy testimony, the members discussed having a 2-day hearing over the 29th and 30th, which would be the final days of this special session.

Rep. Martinez Fischer stated his desire for additional witnesses from various institutions, such as the Univ. of Virginia, so he could ascertain how they dealt with outside interference into their academic operations.  Rep. Perry inquired how the committee will establish the validity of its process and oversight.  Rep. Larson said a representative from the Office of the Governor.s appointment staff must be available to testify as well as UT Chancellor Cigarroa.  Reps. Price and Martinez Fischer discussed how the committee can have access to relevant documents, which total 12,000 (approx. 400,000 pages).  Chair Flynn said the committee has subpoena power and may have a subcommittee to handle all documents so they can receive greater attention and scrutiny.
Frank Battle, general counsel for Speaker Straus, and the members discussed the speaker’s proclamation, which permits the investigation of executive appointees:

PROCLAMATION

Pursuant to Rule 1, Section 16 of the House Rules, I, Joe Straus, Speaker of the Texas House of Representatives, hereby expand the jurisdiction of the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations to include the following: The committee shall monitor the conduct of individuals appointed to offices of the executive branch of state government, including university regents, to ensure that such officers are acting in the best interest of the agencies and institutions they govern. In accordance with Chapter 665, Government Code, the committee shall have the authority to investigate matters relating to misconduct, malfeasance, misfeasance, abuse of office, or incompetency of such officers, and may propose appropriate articles of impeachment against such officers if the committee determines that grounds for impeachment exist. The committee may delegate the committee’s investigatory duties to one or more subcommittees.

Moreover, during the First Called Session of the 83rd Legislature, the committee shall have authority to initiate and conduct impeachment proceedings as described in Chapter 665, Government Code, on behalf of the Texas House of Representatives regarding one or more such officers and may continue its investigations and make recommendations to the Texas House of Representatives thereafter as provided by Section 665.003, Government Code. If after a full and fair investigation under Chapter 665, Government Code, the committee determines that grounds for impeachment exist, the committee may propose appropriate articles of impeachment against one or more such officers and present those articles to the Texas House of Representatives to consider for presentment to the Texas Senate. Pursuant to Section 665.003, Government Code, the Texas House of Representatives may reconvene at a time determined by the Speaker upon written notification that the committee has recommended articles of impeachment so that the Texas House of Representatives may consider such articles.

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Mr. Battle said the committee could issue, to the full House, a resolution which is the articles of impeachment for grounds for removal. Responding to Rep. Price’s question about burden of proof, Mr. Battle said that would be up to the committee to determine.  Chairman Flynn said the House could argue the standard of burden of proof.

Jeff Archer, chief legislative counsel of the Legislative Council, said there is “no clear model or procedures” regarding impeachment and the committee must “sort out how to do it.”  He said the House is responsible for the impeachment charge by a simple majority vote and the Senate is responsible for the trial.

In discussion of the 1975 impeachment of State District Judge O.P. Carrillo, Rep. Martinez Fischer expressed concern that the committee lacked the resources necessary for a thorough investigation with sufficient staff, subpoena power, sergeants-at-arms, possible sequestration of witnesses, depositions, and access to legal documents/pleadings both in Texas and out-of-state.  The members discussed Regent Hall’s omissions on his regent application, perjury, focusing on the relevant issues, the possible subcommittee, the perception of bias by the committee and other topics.

Rep. Larson asked if the House would hear the committee’s impeachment resolution in the next regular session in 2015.  Chair Alvarado said the Speaker can call the House back during the interim to hear the articles of impeachment.  The members discussed such a session for later this year, perhaps late summer or early fall.

Chairman Flynn said the committee would hold a formal hearing on Monday, July 15 at 12:30 p.m. in the Agricultural Museum.  He reminded the members of their gag order regarding its work on impeachment.

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