Representative Jim Pitts is the chairman of the appropriations committee in the Texas legislature, who leaned on the University of Texas law school to admit his lightly qualified son, Ryan, and is now attempting to have UT regent Wallace Hall impeached for bringing attention to such acts of political favoritism. Representative Pitts among other things accuses Mr. Hall of having violated the law by sharing confidential student information with members of the media, saying: “Mr. Hall used the information that he obtained and went to third parties. Now, that’s a violation of the students’ privacy.”
My role in this matter consists of a couple of blog posts, but it has been suggested by people following the case closely that by “third parties” Representative Pitts means me. Some time ago I wrote a piece for NRO about Mr. Hall’s case, and I asked Representative Pitts about his son’s situation. Representative Pitts responded with an angry non-denial and afterwards announced his retirement.
Since this seems to be a matter of some interest for those persecuting Mr. Hall, let me say for the record that neither Wallace Hall nor his attorney was the source of my interest in Representative Pitts. I have never spoken to Mr. Hall about this matter; I don’t think I’ve ever spoken to him at all. (Jeff Sandefer, one of Mr. Hall’s main defenders, once was on the board of National Review; for the record, I’ve not spoken to him about the matter, either.)
The source of the Jim Pitts story was Jim Pitts and the Internet.
At the risk of disappointing those who believe that reporting involves a lot of clandestine meetings with confidential sources in underground parking garages, here’s how the Jim Pitts story came to be. Mr. Hall’s attorneys argued in public that the regent was being persecuted by members of the Texas legislature for threatening to expose them for demanding favoritism. Being familiar with the unique subspecies that is the Texas legislator, I thought to myself: “I wonder whether any of the people that Wallace Hall is implicitly threatening to name is so boneheaded and crass as to be taking a formal role in the impeachment process?” So I started going down the list of legislative leaders pushing for impeachment and through the magic of Google learned which of them had children at UT law. Then I picked up the telephone and wrote some emails — not exactly Woodward and Bernstein stuff.
I write this only because the Texas legislature is looking for any excuse to hang Mr. Hall, and a FERPA violation would be a handy tree branch. But neither Mr. Hall nor his attorney — or anybody else I’ve spoken to about this case, for that matter — revealed any confidential information about Representative Pitts’s son, or even so much as spoke his name. The relevant information already was publicly available; all I did was ask Representative Pitts a question.
Given that Representative Pitts not only improperly sought special consideration for his son but then had the audacity to lead impeachment proceedings in a case in which he has a clear and obvious conflict of interest, my read is that the wrong man is on trial in Austin.