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Two Legislative Hacks Are Bragging They Will Scare Off Witnesses in UT Law School Probe

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You have to take a deep breath first. Anchor yourself. Pinch your nose. Then you might be ready to contemplate the sheer unadorned shamelessness of the Texas Legislature in its confrontation with University of Texas System Regent Wallace Hall of Dallas.

See also: Wallace Hall Was Right.

Back story: After an abortive in-house cover-up, the emergence of an insider whistle-blower and a series of sudden top-level resignations, the university system was forced to bring in a private company to look into reports by independent journalists that the UT Law School was providing student admissions to influential Texas legislators in return for favors.

Latest unbelievable instance of shamelessness: Two legislators, Democrat Trey Fischer and Republican Lyle Larson, both of San Antonio, are insisting that they be allowed to sit on all interviews of potential witnesses by Kroll, an international risk assessment investigations company headquartered in New York. What's more, they have served notice that they themselves are talking to potential witnesses before Kroll can get to them.

I always thought that was the kind of thing you tried to hide. I'm not sure what it amounts to in this instance, but I know in criminal cases they call it witness intimidation. The really remarkable aspect of it here is that the two legislators are serving notice publicly of their intention to intimidate anybody who might consider ratting them or their homies out to Kroll.

Martinez, a frequent and vituperative Hall critic, works for a law firm that merged this year with Brown McCarroll, the powerful Austin lobby shop aligned with Houser Speaker Joe Straus. Straus is one of several legislators at the top of the influence heap singled out in reports last June by John Cassidy of Watchdog.org for their frequent interventions on behalf of UT law school candidates, many of whom were vastly under-qualified according to their admissions tests.

Cassidy found that UT Law School, usually at the top of the list in Texas for the percentage of graduates who take and pass the bar exam, had dropped to dead last by last February because many graduates are serial bar-exam flunkers.

Of the flunkers, 15 had ties to legislators who went after Hall aggressively when they suspected him of leaking the flunkers' names to Cassidy and other reporters, even though Cassidy had explained explicitly in his reporting how he had sleuthed out the names on his own. A half dozen of the flunkers were tied to Straus and Brown McCarroll, including Brown McCarroll chief lobbyist Patrick V. Reinhart, a former Straus staffer found by Cassidy to have flunked the bar three times.

Fischer has been especially wild in grasping for what he thinks are reasons to kick Hall off the board of regents, impeach him and bring criminal charges. My own personal favorite Fischer accusation is that Hall broke the law by seeking out expert opinion on an accounting practice that was allowing UT to overstate its endowment by more than $200 million.

As it turned out, Hall was right on the money; UT had to write down its endowment; but Fischer thought Hall was guilty anyway of a crime that third-graders and prison inmates would describe as snitching.

So by now you get the picture. The probe of admissions corruption at UT Law School is so entangled in slimy statehouse politics that the university system had to go way outside and bring in private detectives to sort things out. Fischer and Larson have reacted to the outside investigation by vowing to sit across the table in all witness interviews with their best ya-betta-watch-yur-ass expressions as people are questioned. And they are already going around to potential witnesses for some kind of chat before the gumshoes can even get to them.

Of course the university regents voted yesterday not to allow the watch-yur-ass boys to sit in on any interviews. Otherwise any potential witness would have been justified in sending Kroll a letter saying, "Give me one good reason why I would even show up for this farce. Please."

But the enormity here is in the ask. It's flat unbelievable that anybody in the Legislature would have the gall even to propose such an arrangement.

A footnote: The ever cautious Texas Tribune, an Austin-based online not-for-profit news medium that has received multiple six-figure gifts of money from the UT University System, persists in reporting this whole affair as if they really have no idea what's going on and frankly, gosh, just don't really even want to know.

Their coverage of this latest absurd fais-do-do explains that, "Larson and Martinez Fischer are particularly interested in the goings-on at the university system because they were appointed to monitor it by their colleagues on the House Select Committee on Transparency in State Agency Operations, which voted to admonish and censure one of the system's regents, Wallace Hall, earlier this year."

Also relevant, perhaps, is that Fischer, anyway, has been instrumental in trying to shut down Hall's inquiries into matters that could be seriously embarrassing and even politically detrimental to Fischer and his posse in the Leg. You know, a lot of news agencies might consider tossing that information out there for the readers to consider as well.

Personally, I am as likely to rely on nonprofit news agencies for my information as I would be to buy a car from a self-described nonprofit used car lot. But I know we gotta keep everybody working somehow. The real lesson here is in the Austin dateline. Like I said at the top, it means hold your nose.

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