This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.
The public is at last seeing Judge Michael Hecht’s defense against the accusations that have sidelined him in the Pierce County Superior Court. We wish it were more convincing.
Hecht, who was elected to the court last fall, is charged with hiring a prostitute and threatening to kill another. Those issues plus two lesser ones (stealing campaign signs and using racial epithets) prompted the state Commission on Judicial Conduct last month to charge him with violating ethical guidelines.
The criminal allegations have been hanging over Hecht for months. His 62-page answer to the commission’s charges finally tells his side of the story.
Much of the response consists of sworn statements by friends and acquaintances. One ally speculates on a possible smear campaign against him on Tacoma’s Antique Row, where some have told police they saw Hecht cruising and picking up young male prostitutes. His response to the commission counters that he was "cruising" to find places to park, and that he picked up young homeless men to feed them and give them work.
Hecht also offers what appears to be plausible evidence that the prostitute he’s been charged with threatening did not give credible accounts of earlier sexual contact with the judge.
But Hecht’s defense rests heavily on the testimony of Joseph R. Pfeiffer. Pfeiffer originally told police he’d had sex with Hecht on occasion from August to January in exchange for money. Now Pfeiffer has changed his story – somewhat. In his sworn statement, he says he had sex with Hecht and also accepted money from Hecht, but the sex wasn’t a quid pro quo for the money.
Pfeiffer was 20; Hecht was in his late 50s, married with children. Pfeiffer was living on the margins of society; Hecht was a lawyer and then an elected judge. Set aside the question of prostitution; the power imbalance alone would seem to make this a predatory relationship.
And this is part of Hecht’s DEFENSE.
Let’s take everything in these 62 pages at face value. We’re still left with at least one instance of Hecht providing financial favors to a vulnerable young man from whom he was – at the same time – receiving sexual favors.
That’s hardly builds confidence in the judgment of a man who’s being paid $148,000 a year precisely to exercise good judgment on the bench.