This just in from Pierce County:
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
FROM: Bryan Chushcoff, Presiding Judge, Pierce County Superior Court
DATE: Oct. 28, 2009
RE: Status of Judge Michael A. Hecht
On March 13, 2009 Judge Hecht and I issued a news release stating as follows:
“Judge Michael Hecht was elected by Pierce County voters in 2008 to a term as a Superior Court judge. Judge Hecht was recently charged with a criminal offense and today he was arraigned by a neutral judge. The judge has made a finding of probable cause and set the matter for trial. Judge Hecht recognizes that his position as a Superior Court judge is one that requires the highest degree of trust and responsibility to preside over court business and to make important decisions in our community. He also recognizes that until the criminal charges against him have been resolved, the confidence of the public in Superior Court may be impaired. To assure continued high public esteem of Pierce County Superior Court, Judge Hecht has agreed with the court to take leave of his duties as a Superior Court judge until such time as these matters may be resolved.”
Given the jury’s verdict of guilty in State v. Michael Hecht announced earlier today, Pierce County Superior Court believes these considerations more pertinent now. I am sure Judge Hecht would continue to share these concerns. Accordingly, he will not resume duties as a Superior Court Judge while this matter remains pending in the court and before the Commission on Judicial Conduct.
It is my understanding of the law that the entry of a conviction does not, of itself, remove a superior court judge from office. Rather, the judge may only be removed in one of two fashions: impeachment by the Legislature; or removal by the Washington Supreme Court upon recommendation of the Commission on Judicial Conduct, “an independent agency of the judicial branch,” WA Const. Art. 4, § 31.
Although Canon 2(A) of the Code of Judicial Conduct states judges should “comply with the law,” there is no statute or rule which gives a criminal conviction any automatic effect upon the tenure of a superior court judge. Art. 4, § 31 subsection (4) says the Commission may issue a finding on the merits only upon completion of a hearing, and subsection (5) provides, “The supreme court may not suspend, remove, or retire a judge or justice until the commission, after notice and hearing, recommends that action be taken, and the supreme court conducts a hearing, after notice, to review commission proceedings and findings against the judge or justice.” RCW 2.64.094 does provide that a judge is automatically suspended, with pay, upon the filing with the Supreme Court of the Commission’s recommendation to that effect, but again, that recommendation may not be made until after a hearing following which the Commission must consider not just the conviction but all mitigating and aggravating factors set out in CJCRP 6(c).