UT Regent Threatens to Sue Lawmaker for Defamation
University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall is threatening to sue state Rep. Lyle Larson, R-San Antonio, for defamation, according a letter obtained Friday by the Tribune.
Hall's lawyer, David Rivkin, notified Larson that he could face litigation if he didn’t retract parts of a column he wrote about Hall for TribTalk, the Tribune's opinion site. The column, published May 14, was titled "Wallace Hall Should Step Aside." (A companion column titled "Wallace Hall Should Stand His Ground," authored by state Rep. Jonathan Stickland, R-Bedford, was posted simultaneously on the site.)
Larson is a member of a legislative committee that has been investigating Hall, who has been accused by some lawmakers of being on a mission to oust University of Texas at Austin President Bill Powers. Hall has personally conducted multiple investigations of the operations the UT-Austin administration but has said that such activities are part of his oversight duties as a regent.
In the letter, Hall took issue with Larson's suggestion that he may have run afoul of the law. Larson's column referenced arguments made in a report by Rusty Hardin, the committee's special counsel. Philip Hilder, an outside attorney for the University of Texas System, issued an opinion that Hall had not violated any laws, as Hall's lawyer noted in his letter to Larson.
Rivkin told Larson he could avoid a defamation lawsuit if he retracted the offending portions of his column by the end of June.
"Hall recognizes that you oppose his efforts to improve transparency and reform practices in the UT System," Rivkin wrote. "He also acknowledges your right to criticize him, his ideas, and his actions. What he will not allow is your false accusations that are intended to defame him."
Reached Friday night, Larson said he was unfazed by the demand letter and had no plans to issue any retractions. "It doesn't frighten me by any stretch of the imagination," he said. "It just shows his colors."
Rivkin did not immediately respond to requests for comment.
The House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations recently voted to approve a motion that grounds to impeach Hall exist. The committee is in the process of drafting articles of impeachment against the regent.
Hall has been critical of the committee’s investigation, saying it undermines what he’s doing as a regent.
"Which approach benefits the UT System, asking the Board of Regents to address wrongdoing, or asking regents who uncover the wrongdoing to resign?" Hall said in a statement this month. "Will the public ever know the truth about problems in our institutions if legislators are allowed to impeach Board members who reveal them?"
Disclosure: The University of Texas at Austin is a corporate sponsor of The Texas Tribune. Rusty Hardin was a major donor to the Tribune in 2012 and 2013. A complete list of Texas Tribune donors and sponsors can be viewed here.
This article originally appeared in The Texas Tribune at http://www.texastribune.org/2014/05/30/ut-regent-threatens-sue-lawmaker-defamation/.