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Report: Regent Didn't Violate Student Privacy Laws

Bob Daemmrich/Texas Tribune
UT Regent Wallace Hall

After reviewing University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall's handling of information that may be confidential under federal student privacy laws, outside lawyers for the system have concluded that there was "no credible evidence of a violation of [the state government code] that would warrant a referral for criminal prosecution."

In November, Francie Frederick, the general counsel to the UT System Board of Regents, testified before the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, which is considering whether or not to recommend Hall's impeachment for allegedly overstepping his authority in his investigations of the University of Texas at Austin administration.

Frederick recounted an incident in which Hall had shared possibly protected information about a student's application to the University with his personal lawyers. She said she did not believe Hall's lawyers had the authority to view the information. On the same day, another senior attorney from the system also said that sharing the information with outside counsel was not permitted under federal privacy guidelines.

This prompted state Rep. Trey Martinez Fischer, D-San Antonio, a member of the committee, to request that the system review Hall's handling of information. The committee also asked that their special counsel, Rusty Hardin, analyze the matter and, if he determined it was warranted, refer it to the proper legal authorities.

Philip Hilder, an outside attorney whose firm — Hilder & Associates — was hired by the system to assist them during the committee's investigation, reviewed the matter and submitted a report on Monday. Hilder concluded that Hall, as a system official looking studying alleged favoritism in the university's admissions processes, had a legitimate reason for having the document in question. He also wrote that construing Hall's sharing of the document with his lawyers as criminal would create something of a conundrum.

"In light of the fundamental role attorneys play," Hilder wrote, "it would lead to an absurd result were it criminal for an official to provide student records to his or her attorney in the face or litigation, or anticipated litigation, involving those very records."

Calls to Hardin and Martinez Fischer were not immediately returned.

Reeve Hamilton has interned at The Nation and The Texas Observer, for which he covered the 2009 legislative session. Most recently, he was a desk assistant at The NewsHour with Jim Lehrer. A Houston native, he has a bachelor's degree in English from Vanderbilt University.
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