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Tag: Judge Hecht


Pierce council asks Gregoire not to fill Superior Court seat

Updated below with more comment from the governor’s office

The Pierce County Council has asked Gov. Chris Gregoire not to fill the Superior Court seat recently vacated by Judge Michael Hecht.

In a letter dated Monday, the council lays out its legal argument that its decision to eliminate the court seat is legal, despite arguments to the contrary by the local prosecuting attorney’s office, County Executive Pat McCarthy and the local bar association.

In the letter (you can download a PDF copy here), council Chairman Roger Bush, R-Graham, quotes a state law authorizing Pierce County to have no more than 24 Superior Court judges. Bush argues that the law gives the council discretion to determine the exact number of positions.

“The decision to authorize a judicial position must take into account the county’s need as well as its ability to fund that position,” Bush wrote (the salaries of Superior Court judges are split between the county and the state).

“The question is whether the state legislature, in recognizing and granting the authority to local legislative bodies to authorize new judicial positions, intended that such decision would be irreversible, that it would remain in place in perpetuity,” he wrote. “We believe that was not the intent…”

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Pierce council overrides two vetos, chides executive and judges

The Pierce County Council Tuesday voted unanimously to override two vetoes issued by County Executive Pat McCarthy in an ongoing battle over the balance of power among the various branches of county government.

The council voted to override McCarthy’s veto of an ordinance that eliminated the Superior Court seat recently vacated by Judge Michael Hecht. The effect is to reduce the number of Superior Court seats from 22 to 21, despite objections from McCarthy, judges, the prosecuting attorney’s office and the local bar association, all of whom claim the council has overstepped its authority.

“I haven’t seen such a blatantly illegal act in my 25 years in practice,” Judge James Orlando told the council Tuesday.

Council members responded by asserting their authority over the budget and defending the legality of their decision. They also criticized the judges for stonewalling efforts to assess the court’s workload. And they questioned the work ethic of some on the bench.

“There are some judges who are better at their golf game than they are at being a judge,” said Councilman Tim Farrell, D-Tacoma.

The council also voted to override the executive’s veto of an ordinance changing the county’s comprehensive land-use plan. They accused McCarthy of holding up dozens of legitimate zoning and policy changes because of concerns they say she failed to express before the council approved them.

“With all due respect, Executive McCarthy, what were you thinking?” said Councilwoman Barbara Gelman, D-Tacoma.

Tuesday’s votes and harsh words were the latest evidence of tensions among county officials that have been simmering all year.

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Prosecutor: McCarthy’s Superior Court veto is legit

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy’s veto of an ordinance eliminating a Superior Court seat is legitimate, according to a legal opinion issued today.

In a letter to McCarthy, Douglas Vanscoy, chief civil deputy in the prosecuting attorney’s office, writes that McCarthy did not have to sign the returned ordinance in order to make her veto legal. (You can download a PDF copy of the veto here).

Vanscoy’s opinion is the latest salvo in a skirmish that began when the council voted earlier this month to eliminate a Superior Court seat formerly held by Judge Michael Hecht. Counci members cited

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Pierce County Council chairman: Hecht veto was invalid

Updated with Pat McCarthy’s comments below.

The Pierce County Council may have a novel response to a veto by County Executive Pat McCarthy: Veto? What veto?

On Monday McCarthy announced she had vetoed a council ordinance eliminating the Superior Court seat held by Judge Michael Hecht. But council Chairman Roger Bush said Thursday the executive did not sign the vetoed ordinance when she returned it to the council. He said that makes it invalid.

The county charter states that every ordinance approved by the council must be presented to the executive. “If approved by the executive, the ordinance shall be signed by the executive and become law…” If the county executive does not approve an ordinance passed by the council “the entire ordinance shall be vetoed and returned with the executive’s written objections, which shall be entered in the journal of council proceedings.”

Roger Bush
Roger Bush

Bush acknowledged the charter does not specifically require the executive to sign vetoed ordinances. But he said that has been the practice of county executives, including McCarthy. He said practices like signing and time-stamping ordinances establish a paper trail “to accomplish clarity of the law.”

McCarthy has vetoed two other ordinances this year: one involving a proposed E-Verify program and one involving the county’s comprehensive land-use plan. Records show she returned those ordinances signed, dated and marked “vetoed.”

But records show she did not sign the latest vetoed ordinance involving the Superior Court seat. Here’s a PDF file showing the signature pages of the three vetoed ordinances. The first page is for the E-Verify ordinance, the second page is for the comprehensive plan ordinance and the third is for the Superior Court ordinance.

Bush said the missing signature makes the veto invalid. He said the 10 days given the executive to veto an ordinance has already expired, so she can’t simply sign it now. He said there’s no need for a council vote on whether to override the veto. In his mind, the ordinance stands and Hecht’s seat has been eliminated.

Nonetheless, Bush said the council likely will discuss its response to the veto at its noon study session Tuesday.

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Should Pierce County cut or keep Hecht’s Superior Court seat?

Today we’ll learn the fate of Pierce County Superior Court Judge Michael Hecht. He’s scheduled to be sentenced for felony harassment and patronizing a prostitute.

But the fate of Hecht’s seat on the bench is less certain.

The County Council recently voted to eliminate Hecht’s post, citing the need for flexibility in a time of tough budgets. The prosecuting attorney’s office cried foul. County Executive Pat McCarthy vetoed the move. And the local bar association is threatening to sue the council.

So far, the council isn’t backing down. Which leads me to ask: what do

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Bar association may sue Pierce County Council over court seat

The Tacoma/Pierce County Bar Association is considering legal action against the County Council over its decision to eliminate a Superior Court seat.

The association’s Board of Trustees voted unanimously this morning to “analyze our legal options with regard to the council,” according to President David Snell.

That doesn’t mean a lawsuit is imminent. Snell said the association hopes to speak with council members to “figure out a win-win situation.”

“We’re not saying we’re going to sue,” Snell said after the meeting. “We’re saying we’re looking at that as well as other options like opening a dialogue about what their intentions are.”

The move comes a day after County Executive Pat McCarthy vetoed the council’s Nov. 3 vote to eliminate the Superior Court seat previously held by Judge Michael Hecht. Hecht resigned following his conviction for felony harassment and paying a man for sex.

Pierce County has 22 Superior Court judges, whose salaries are split between the county and the state. Two weeks ago the council voted unanimously to eliminate Hecht’s post, citing the need for flexibility at a time of tight budgets.

The county prosecuting attorney’s office later issued an opinion stating the council had exceeded its authority. The opinion concluded that the court seat was created by the Legislature and can only be dissolved by the Legislature. It also concluded that the budget ordinance the council used was not the proper means to eliminate the post.

McCarthy cited the same reasoning in vetoing the measure yesterday.

Snell said the veto “only goes so far.” The council can override the veto. And the fate of the court seat in 2010 remains up in the air. The council stipulated in its 2010 budget includes salary and benefits for only 21 Superior Court departments.

Snell said the prosecuting attorney’s opinion makes it clear the council doesn’t have the authority to eliminate the court seat. And he thinks the council is guilty of micromanaging Superior Court.

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Exec vetoes Pierce County Council decision to cut Hecht’s post

Pierce County Executive Pat McCarthy today vetoed a County Council decision to eliminate Superior Court Judge Michael Hecht’s seat.

In a letter delivered to the council this afternoon (here’s a copy), McCarthy echoed a recent opinion by the county

Pat McCarthy
Pat McCarthy

prosecuting attorney’s office, which found the council did not have the authority to eliminate Hecht’s post. McCarthy also cited what she said was the council’s improper use of an emergency ordinance to cut the post.

The council voted Nov. 3 to eliminate Hecht’s seat. The move came a day after Hecht announced his resignation following his conviction for felony harassment and paying a man for sex.

The council vote also set aside Hecht’s remaining 2009 compensation – about $19,000 – for pro tem judges to hear cases in his absence. Hecht spent most of this year on administrative leave and hasn’t been hearing cases.

Council members said cutting Hecht’s seat would give the county more flexibility as it tries to balance its budget. And they said the addition of a state-funded commissioner in 2010 would give Superior Court more manpower to handle cases.

The council move drew swift criticism from the local bar association. And it prompted an opinion from the prosecuting attorney’s office that found the council action illegal. The opinion found that the Legislature created the seat, so only the Legislature can eliminate it. It also found the budget ordinance the council used was not the proper means to eliminate the post.

McCarthy cited those same issues in vetoing the council’s decision. She also criticized the use of an emergency ordinance that allowed the council to skip regular public notice of its intention.

“This ordinance was enacted in haste without any input from the public or other branches of government,” she wrote in the veto letter. “Contrary to the finding of the Council, there was no emergency that justified denying the public – including the bench and the Bar – the right to have meaningful input on this important issue affecting the people’s access to the courts.”

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Pierce County Council cuts Hecht’s seat for 2010

The Pierce County Council Tuesday confirmed its decision to eliminate funding for the Superior Court seat of Judge Michael Hecht.

The council approved an amendment to its 2010 budget that stipulates its Superior Court appropriation includes salary and benefits for 21 judicial positions. The county had 22 Superior Court judges before Hecht announced his resignation last week.

The council voted unanimously to approve the budget language. But there is some division on the council about how it might eventually restore the judge’s post.

Earlier in the meeting, the council defeated – by a vote of 2-5 – a proposal that

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