Inside Opinion

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Tag: Michael Hecht

Dec.
4th

County court dispute may be headed for a homer referee

I’ve been a little fuzzy on the Pierce County Council’s theory on how it could legally eliminate a superior court seat – Department 9 – created by an act of the Legislature. The council is pleading with Gov. Chris Gregoire not to appoint anyone to the supposedly nonexistent seat, and it laid out its arguments a few days ago.

Various legal authorities, including the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office, say county officials can’t pull asunder what the Legislature has joined together. Department 9 was created in 1969, long before lawmakers in 1985 allowed counties to share in the decision to create court seats. There’s even a good argument that counties can’t kill seats created after 1985.

The county has now clarified its theory. In its plea to the governor, the council argues that this business of pre- and post-1985 is all nonsense. “To carry that argument out to its logical extension would be to say that a protected class of judges was created simply by the name and number given by the county to the department.”

I.e., the court seats are sort of one aggregated mass – one’s no different from the other, and they all exist at the pleasure of the council.
Read more »

Nov.
20th

Hecht sentence slammed

We received this letter today from Joseph J. Hesketh III, the father of one of the young men who testified against former Superior Court Judge Michael Hecht. It’s too long to run as a letter to the editor (we have a 250-word limit), so he agreed to let us post it here.

Justice served?

What has happened to justice in Pierce County? Hundreds of citizens in this county have been arrested and booked for offenses as minor as shoplifting, jay-walking and spitting on the wrong part of the street. Many of these citizens have spent a considerable amount of time in Jail awaiting administrative hearing (arraignment) to determine what official charges will be levied against them.

Then we have the former Superior Court Judge Michael A. Hecht. At his sentencing hearing he was sentenced to 30 days, converted to 240 hours of community service. Is this justice? Not in my opinion.

Mr. Hecht complained to the presiding judge that he has extensive health problems. How is that different from the scores of citizens who also have health problems and end up in jail, many times without these health issues being addressed due to day of the week, staffing or a number of other reasons? Read more »

Nov.
7th

Maybe the County Council CAN’T get rid of that court seat

There might be a problem with the Pierce County Council’s decision to do away with former Judge Michael Hecht’s old seat on the bench: The Washington Constitution.

Doug Vanscoy, the chief civil deputy of the Pierce County Prosecutor’s Office, took a look this week at the legalities of the council’s action and came up with some interesting conclusions. I summarize:

• The seat in question, Department 9, was created by the Legislature – not the county – in 1969.

• The constitution gives the Legislature sole discretion over the creation of judgeships.

• In 1985, the Legislature began to share

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Nov.
3rd

Why not to run against a Pierce County judge

Another take on why Pierce County lawyers don’t run against sitting judges. In keeping with the general theme of not wanting to antagonize said judges, this attorney has asked me not to use his name:

Hi Pat,

I’ve been meaning to give you feedback about the blog concerning why good local lawyers don’t more often file against incumbent judges. “Etiquette” doesn’t begin to explain it.

From this lawyer’s perspective, here are some among a myriad of reasons:

The withering scrutiny the candidate will face. You’d better not have ever expressed the belief that marriage presupposes a man and a woman, or hired household help who lacked a green card, or told a joke that somebody, somewhere, might find offensive, or overlooked paying your income tax . . . although the latter would not disqualify you from becoming Secretary of the Treasury. :)

The demands of the financial disclosure laws. Who among us wants to expose every detail of our financial affairs to public view? If you’re in a law firm, many of the firm’s records will also be disclosed.
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Nov.
2nd

Why, why did Michael Hecht stay in the cross-hairs?

Michael Hecht could have spared himself a whole lot of grief if he’d resigned earlier. After fighting prosecution for the better part of a year, he wound up resigning anyway after his convictions last week.

He could have stepped down from the court when the allegations first came to light last January. Better yet, he could have not run for office, knowing the time bombs in his past.

Without the judge’s robes, Hecht was a common john. His offenses were so commonplace, I doubt any prosecutor would have gone to the trouble of building a case against him –

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Oct.
31st

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 »

Oct.
30th

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.
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Oct.
29th

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.
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