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Tag: Judge Hecht


Pierce County Council set to restore Superior Court seat

Update: The council unanimously – and without comment – reinstated the Superior Court seat this afternoon.


The Pierce County Council this afternoon is scheduled to formally reinstate the Superior Court it eliminated last November.

The council voted unanimously to eliminate the seat formerly held by Judge Michael Hecht. The move came just a day after Hecht announced his resignation. He previously was convicted of felony harassment and paying a man for sex.

The council cited the need for budget flexibility as it tried to balance the 2010 budget. It claimed state law gave it the discretion to determine

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Pierce County Council committee votes to restore Superior Court seat

The Pierce County Council’s rules committee this morning approved a measure repealing an ordinance eliminating the Superior Court seat vacated by Judge Michael Hecht.

The committee voted 3-0 to repeal the measure, without comment. The full council must still take action.

Last November the council approved an emergency ordinance eliminating Hecht’s seat a day after he announced his retirement. Hecht had been convicted of felony harassment and paying a man for sex.

The council cited the need for flexibility as it tried to cut spending in its 2010 budget. Though Superior Court positions are authorized and partially subsidized by

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Pierce County Council may restore Hecht’s Superior Court seat

The Pierce County Council next week will consider reinstating the Superior Court seat held by Judge Michael Hecht. The move would end a months-long dispute over who has the authority to create and eliminate Superior Court judgeships in the county.

The council touched off that debate in November when it voted unanimously to eliminate Hecht’s seat just a day after he announced his resignation. The judge had been convicted of felony harassment and paying a man for sex.

Council members cited the need for budget flexibility as they struggled to balance the county’s 2010 spending plan. Though Superior Court

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AG opinion: Pierce council can’t eliminate Superior Court seat

The state Attorney General’s Office has concluded the Pierce County Council did not have the legal authority to eliminate the Superior Court seat held by Judge Michael Hecht.

In an opinion issued today, Attorney General Rob McKenna and Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Even wrote that the state constitution authorizes the Legislature to direct the number of judges for each superior court.

“A county legislative authority desiring to reduce that number may work with the Legislature to do so through a statutory amendment,” the opinion states.

You can download a PDF copy of the opinion here.

A spokesman for Gov. Chris Gregoire said she will proceed with filling the post. Because there are six vacant superior court seats throughout the state at the moment, it may be six months before the governor receives recommendations for appointments from her legal counsel, according to spokesman Biet Shelton.

The County Council eliminated funding for Hecht’s seat in November, just a day after the judge announced his resignation. The council cited the need for budget flexibility.

The county prosecuting attorney’s office, County Executive Pat McCarthy and the local bar association claimed the move was illegal. State Court Administrator Jeff Hall requested the attorney general’s opinion.

The council issued a statement this afternoon saying that “if Pierce county must reinstate its 22nd Superior Court judge, the County Council believes the state of Washington should help cover the cost.” In the statement Chairman Roger Bush, R-Graham, said the state is imposing an unfunded mandate on the county.

The state already pays half of the salaries of Superior Court judges. It also pays for judges’ healthcare benefits.

“The money we saved from eliminating that seat has already been used on other needs in Superior Court,” Bush said. “At this point, it will be a struggle to fund a 22nd judge.”

You can read the council’s full statement below.

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Will bar association sue County Council over Pierce County court seat?

The incoming president of the Tacoma/Pierce County Bar Association isn’t quite ready to sue the County Council over its recent decision to eliminate the Superior Court seat vacated by Judge Michael Hecht.

In a meeting with the News Tribune editorial board yesterday, Scott Candoo – who will become president of the association next month – said a lawsuit might be needed to clarify whether the council has the authority to cut the court seat.

But a lawsuit is “a card I’m not recommending we play right now,” he said.

The council voted in November to eliminated the seat a day after Hecht announced his resignation. It later affirmed the decision, and has asked Gov. Chris Gregoire to refrain from filling the post.

The bar association, the prosecuting attorney’s office and others contend the council exceeded when it eliminated the court seat. The association has threatened to sue the council.

But Candoo said the association must consider other factors – like public perception – before filing a lawsuit.

“We don’t want to win the legal argument but lose the public relations battle,” he said.

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Lindquist: Tone down the rhetoric in Superior Court dispute

Pierce County Prosecutor Mark Lindquist read my earlier post on a year of political skirmishes in county government. He was struck by a quote from Judge James Orlando, who scolded the County Council last month for its decision to eliminate a Superior Court seat. Orlando said he hadn’t “seen such a blatantly illegal act in my 25 years in practice.”

“Really?” Lindquist told me in a telephone interview this morning. “(What about) murder? Rape?”

The prosecutor’s point: “I don’t think hyperbole fosters good working relationships.”

He noted his own deputy used much more moderate language in challenging the

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Pierce County: A year of political skirmishes

Think Pierce County’s elected officials have been fighting lately? You’re wrong. They’ve been at it all year.

As 2009 draws to a close, I’ve been reviewing a year’s worth of political skirmishes in Pierce County government. The bottom line: at times it’s seemed that everyone is fighting with everyone else.

A rookie executive has feuded with a veteran County Council.

The council and executive have criticized Superior Court judges.

The judges have threatened to sue the executive and council.

The prosecutor has accused the council of overstepping its authority.

The assessor-treasurer has decried the council and executive.

So what’s going on? That’s the question I’m trying to answer in an upcoming article.

There are several answers. First, there are inherent tensions among the various branches of government. The county charter, for example, pits the executive against the council, giving the exec control of departments and contracts and the council authority over the budget and policy decisions.

But there’s more going on here than the push and pull of good government. Tough circumstances – i.e., a year of budget cutting – also have played a role.

So have politics and personalities. How much? Judge for yourself. Below is a recap of this year’s political tug of war.

I think it’s fair to say it’s incomplete. These are just the punches that were thrown in public. At other times, the tensions simmered in private.

Read on and pass along your thoughts.

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Attorney general to rule on eliminating Pierce Superior Court seat

A state official has formally asked Attorney General Rob McKenna for an opinion on whether counties can legally eliminate vacant Superior Court positions.

The move follows the Pierce County Council’s decision last month to eliminate the post vacated by Judge Michael Hecht. That decision was criticized as illegal by the prosecuting attorney’s office and the local bar association. County Executive Pat McCarthy vetoed the measure, but the council unanimously voted to overturn the veto.

Council members say state law gives them the authority to determine the number of Superior Court seats.

Now state court administrator Jeff Hall has asked McKenna for an opinion. The attorney general’s office on Tuesday requested public comment on the question: “When an existing, authorized superior court judge position becomes vacant, does the county have authority to eliminate the position?”

The notice – published in an online forum for people interested in attorney general’s opinions – states people interested in commenting on the issue should contact the office by Dec. 25. The office requests comment “when it appears that individuals outside the Attorney General’s Office have information or expertise that will assist in the preparation of a particular opinion.” See more details below.

The notice does not state when the attorney general will issue an opinion. In a recent e-mail, spokesman Dan Sytman said the office can take up to 90 days to issue an opinion once it’s received a formal request.

You can read the full attorney general’s notice below. Thanks to Curt Woodward of the Associated Press, Amy Howard of Washbucket and Jason Mercier of the Washington Policy Center for the heads up on this.

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