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.
It’s a matter of the intrinsic foulness of these crimes. Contrary to common notions of prostitution as a victimless offense, this is a viciously self-destructive “survival” tactic that traps some of society’s most vulnerable people.
Hecht’s victims were commonly young, addicted, frequently homeless and literally hungry. Joseph Pfeiffer, whom the prosecution built part of its case upon, was 20 years old when Hecht was hiring him for – according to Pfeiffer – as little as $10 a turn.
Pfeiffer, a pathetic figure with a ninth-grade education, testified that he sold himself to buy drugs and did just that with the pittances Hecht paid him.
Hecht presented himself in the trial as a “helpful grandpa type” who befriended homeless men to buy them food, give them jobs and offer them advice. He was often seen cruising Antique Row not – he said – because he was trolling for young men, but because he was looking for parking.
The state prosecutor, John Hillman, methodically demolished those claims with a seemingly endless string of witnesses who testified to the contrary. Given the weight of evidence, the jury ultimately found homeless addicts and petty criminals more credible than this Superior Court judge.
There’s only one word for a fifty-something attorney who buys the bodies and feeds the addictions of broken young men: predatory.
For heaven’s sake, Mr. Hecht, step down and get the help you need before they have to change the locks at the courthouse.