Inside Opinion

What's on the minds of Tacoma News Tribune editorial writers

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Archives: Oct. 2009


A fast exit strategy for Michael Hecht

Day four after Judge Michael Hecht’s convictions, and he still hasn’t resigned from the Pierce County Superior Court. A bad omen.

You’d think there’d be some easy, quick way to pry a man off the bench after his criminal conduct has been established under the law’s strictest test: guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. But in Washington, getting rid of a felon-judge is more complicated than it ought to be. Pierce County officials may have to force the issue and simply cut off Hecht’s $148,000 salary – for which he’s been doing nothing – once he’s sentenced in three weeks.

One of the problems here is lack of precedent. Washington – unlike, say, New Jersey or Illinois – doesn’t have much experience with criminals on the bench. Hecht’s case is unique. It appears that the state has never before had to deal with a superior court judge who persists in office after being convicted of a felony, in this case threatening to kill a man (in addition to the misdemeanor of hiring a prostitute).

There appear to be three major options. Read more »


Salish Sea and Cupacoffee Creek

“Salish Sea,” a felicitous name for the waters of the Northwest’s Salish Indians, has taken another step toward atlas status. Also check out the new names for four creeks; my favorite is “Cupacoffee Creek.”

October 30, 2009

OLYMPIA – The Washington State Board on Geographic Names today approved a proposal to use ‘Salish Sea’ as the collective name for the body of water that includes Puget Sound, the Strait of Juan de Fuca, and Georgia Strait.

The new designation does not change or eliminate the names of any of the several bodies of water within the Salish Sea on either side of the international border. It also mandates that cartographers must use Salish Sea on all maps or in all atlases. The term, which has been adopted by the British Columbia Geographical Names Office, is already used by some scientists to describe the unified ecosystem and habitats of the inland waters.
Read more »


Hecht case shows the necessity of healthy newsrooms

The authors of the Washington Post piece below, a couple of lefties, propose government subsidies as a remedy for ailing news operations. Bad idea. Very bad idea. Goodbye, independent press.

But they do get the diagnosis right: “The problem is that newspaper newsrooms, once packed with reporters, are disappearing, and neither broadcast nor digital media are filling the void.”

There’s no way this is not going to sound self-serving, but democratic self-government depends on healthy newsrooms (traditional or Web-based – but I’ve yet to see a purely Web-supported one).

This is a roundabout way of calling attention to the role this newspaper has played in helping Pierce County rid itself of a bad judge, Michael Hecht. (He’s not gone yet, but his felony conviction Wednesday guarantees he’ll go.) The News Tribune broke the news last January that the Tacoma police had investigated his reported use of prostitutes and his reported death threat against one of them.

Our newsroom has bird-dogged the story ever since. On the opinion section, we printed an early demand for answers from bar leaders and pressed the state Attorney General’s office not let the case drop (not prosecuting is always easier and cheaper than prosecuting).

Result: Hecht’s on his way out. He might otherwise have been looking forward to three more years on the bench.

I can’t think of a better example of how newsrooms alert citizens to rot in government. You may not be a fan of newspapers per se, but they’d best not wither completely on the vine before the Web can match their capacity to break original stories.

By Robert W. McChesney and John Nichols
Special to The Washington Post
Special to The Washington Post

President Obama, a self-declared “big newspaper junkie,” fears he might be forced to go cold turkey. “I am concerned that if the direction of the news is all blogosphere, all opinions, with no serious fact-checking, no serious attempts to put stories in context, that what you will end up getting is people shouting at each other across the void but not a lot of mutual understanding,” he said last month to newspaper editors who asked about the crisis that threatens their industry and journalism in general.
Read more »


Reason upon reason to not vote for Alexander

This editorial will appear in Friday’s print edition.

John Alexander comes across as an impressive candidate for the Puyallup City Council: soft-spoken, earnest, thoughtful, articulate. Just the guy you want on a council where reason and level-headedness have been in short supply at times.

Alexander charmed us enough this summer that had we not caught him in a lie – he told us his mind wasn’t made up about City Manager Gary McLean despite having blogged that “replacing him is a priority of mine” – we would have considered endorsing him.

But as detail after detail from Alexander’s past has dribbled out, it’s clear that Alexander is not the person he portrays himself to be. More to the point, he has demonstrated time and again that he doesn’t belong on the council.

Read more »


Fort Lewis forces pay high price for war

For many Americans, the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq are far off in the distance, with little impact on their own lives. But here in the South Sound, they resonate as clearly as the sound of artillery during training exercises and as visibly as the transport planes that fly overhead.

Because of the presence of Fort Lewis, few other places in America so deeply feel the weight of war and know the cost of it. The single deadliest day so far for our forces was Monday, when eight Stryker soldiers were killed in two separate roadside bomb attacks in Afghanistan.

On Wednesday, they and 10 other Americans came home. President Obama was at Dover Air Force Base, Del. – the first time a president has been present when remains of fallen military arrived. Read more »


So why didn’t a better lawyer – not Hecht – run against Armijo?

Take a couple steps back from the scandal over Judge Michael Hecht’s criminal convictions and misconduct. Behind it all is unspoken taboo among the Pierce County bar against challenging sitting judges.

The only reason Hecht got elected to the Pierce County Superior Court in the first place last fall was the vulnerability of the judge he challenged, Sergio Armijo. Many of the county’s practicing attorneys will acknowledge that Armijo was not one of the supernovas of the judicial galaxy.

There’s a slew of outstanding lawyers out there who might have run against Armijo last year, defeated him and done a better job on the bench. None of them did. Among the county’s better lawyers, challenging a sitting judge violates some Emily Post rule about legal manners. Just isn’t done. Not polite.
Read more »


The slow track for Hecht’s removal

Not only can we not recall Judge Michael Hecht after his felony conviction yesterday, prying him out the usual way – through an ethical complaint – looks like it would take forever.

When judges act badly, the constitutional recourse is to ask the state Commission on Judicial Conduct to investigation. If it finds misconduct serious enough, it recommends that the state Supreme Court dismiss the judge. The court does its own review and hearing, then decides.

A complaint has been filed in Hecht case. But the commission isn’t scheduled to hear it until Feb. 22, which would make it more than a year that Hecht has been collecting his salary and occupying a seat on the Pierce County Superior Court without hearing cases. Who knows how much longer the actual dismissal might take on this path.

Can’t the commission act any faster? I asked Reiko Callner, its executive director, to explain why the procedure can’t be fast-tracked:

“That is relatively fast tracked,” she said. “We’re not built for speed. Our scheduling depends on the scheduling of attorneys in the case and the scheduling of the panel members. What we have to do is corrale all those schedules together and put it at th earliest possible date.
Read more »


Hecht’s goodbye is 10 months overdue

This editorial will appear in tomorrow’s print edition.

We are not counting on Judge Michael Hecht’s sense of decency. But if he still possesses any vestige of one, he will resign immediately from the Pierce County Superior Court bench.

A jury found him guilty Wednesday of hiring one young prostitute, a misdemeanor, and threatening to kill another, a felony. Every hour he remains on the court is a further disgrace to the bench.

State law appears to mandate automatic dismissal of any judge convicted of a felony. The trigger point, presumably, will be his formal sentencing next month.

Were Hecht capable of shame, it would never have come to this. He would never have filed for office, knowing the personal scrutiny his election might bring. He would never have taken the oath of office almost 10 months ago, the day after this newspaper reported he’d been under criminal investigation by Tacoma police. He’d have stepped down long, long ago, rather than cling to his $148,000 salary despite being barred from the courtroom by scandal.

It’s not a matter of being innocent until proven guilty. Hecht has known all along that, until recently, he was frequenting the young male prostitutes who sell themselves on Tacoma’s Antique Row.
Read more »