Judge Hecht Resigns After Guilty Verdict
Pierce County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Hecht has resigned his seat on the bench.
Hecht, 59, notified the court and Gov. Chris Gregoire of his decision by letter Monday. His departure takes effect Nov. 16 – three days before his scheduled sentencing on charges of felony harassment and paying a man for sex. A jury returned guilty verdicts against Hecht last week. “Regrettably, as a result of my conviction in Pierce County Superior Court, in order to uphold the integrity of the court system of which I feel strongly about, I do not believe I have any choice but to resign,” Hecht’s letter stated. Before and during the trial, Hecht said he was innocent. His letter underscored that position, hinting that he will appeal his conviction. “It is my intent to keep fighting to reverse this injustice and reinstate my good name,” Hecht wrote. “But I will do that independently of attempting to remain on the bench under the current situation. I have requested nothing in return for this resignation.” By resigning, Hecht will remove himself from the county payroll. His annual salary is $148,000. He hasn’t worked since March when he took a paid leave of absence shortly after the criminal charges were filed. His decision forestalls a clash between the executive and judicial branches of Pierce County government. The debate among county leaders revolved around the process of removing Hecht from the bench. The executive branch, citing state law, contended that a felony conviction automatically removed Hecht from the bench and the county payroll. The judicial branch argued otherwise, citing the state constitution, which outlines the process for removing judges. That removal process, which promised to last into next spring, would have forced the county to continue paying Hecht’s salary, even if his sentence included jail time.
Last week, executive branch leaders raised the prospect of cutting Hecht off the payroll immediately and forcing a legal confrontation. In his resignation, Hecht alluded to the conflict, stating that he hoped “to avoid any further discourse between the County Executive and those who protect the Washington State Constitution.” Judge Bryan Chushcoff, who presides over the Superior Court, released a statement welcoming Hecht’s decision. “It was probable that but for Mr. Hecht’s resignation, it would be some considerable time before the matter would be resolved,” Chushcoff wrote. “We believe that this decision will begin to restore public confidence in the court and will allow the governor an opportunity to appoint a new judge who can help shoulder the heavy workload in Pierce County Superior Court.” Hecht’s decision triggers the search for his replacement. The process could take as long as three months. Superior Court judges are elected, but vacancies are filled by appointment. Gregoire will make the selection after consulting with leaders of the state and local bar associations. The process starts with a formal notice of vacancy sent to the bar association. That announcement was expected Monday or today, said Marty Loesch, senior counsel to the governor.
Next, the bar association requests applications. The window typically stays open for a month, Loesch said. Candidate interviews follow, then a poll of the bar association, then analysis and finally a recommendation to the governor, who makes the pick. Loesch said the holidays might slow the process. On the other hand, the Superior Court has been operating minus one judge for most of the year. “We understand that they’d like to get the position filled as quickly as possible, as does the governor,” Loesch said. Reiko Callner, executive director of the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct, said Hecht’s resignation wouldn’t necessarily stop her agency’s investigation into the disgraced judge’s behavior. The commission filed a “statement of charges” against Hecht earlier this year, accusing him of violating judicial canons by allegedly trading cash and legal advice for sex, threatening two men, using racially insensitive language and engaging in unfair campaign conduct.
Hecht denies the charges.
The commission’s fact-finding hearing is set to begin Feb. 22 at the King County Courthouse in Seattle. The hearing will proceed unless Hecht negotiates a resolution to the matter beforehand, Callner said. Whatever the outcome, the commission cannot overturn Hecht’s criminal conviction; that power rests with state appeals courts.
Sean Robinson: 253-597-8486 - firstname.lastname@example.org - Staff writer Adam Lynn contributed to this report.
November 2, 2009
The Honorable Bryan E. Chushcoff
Pierce County Superior Court
930 Tacoma Avenue South
Tacoma, WA 98402
Dear Judge Chushcoff:
Regrettably, as a result of my conviction in Pierce County Superior Court, in order to uphold the integrity of the court system of which I feel strongly about, I do not believe I have any choice but to resign. Therefore, to avoid any further discourse between the County Executive and those who protect the Washington State Constitution, I submit my resignation as Superior Court Judge, Department 9, effective November 16, 2009. It is my intent to keep fighting to reverse this injustice and reinstate my good name. But I will do that independently of attempting to remain on the bench under the current situation. I have requested nothing in return for this resignation. As a result, you may begin the process of appointing a successor to my position so that Pierce County Superior Court will not be burdened any longer. I want to thank all of the Judges and my loyal staff for their kind words of encouragement and support during this whole process. Thank you for your consideration in this matter.
Very truly yours,
Cc: Gov. Christine Gregoire