Talk About a Process Crime

Justice facing criminal and ethics probes in Austin

Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht is the subject of both criminal and ethical investigations based on a complaint made by a group called Texas Watch. The group’s complaint is based on the following facts (according to this article):

1) When Harriet Miers was nominated to the U.S. Supreme Court by President Bush, Hecht was vocal in promoting the nomination of his friend and former co-worker Miers to the Court.

2) Back then, another group filed a complaint with the Commission on Judicial Conduct, alledging that Hecht’s support of Miers violated canons of judicial ethics. The Commission issued a “public admonishment” (ruling here, including footnote citing a Wikipedia article) to Hecht, but the admonishment was dismissed by a three-judge panel, before which Hecht was represented by the law firm of Jackson Walker.

3) Hecht’s legal bill for the ordeal ran to the hundreds of thousands of dollars (apparently in the range of $350-450K) and Jackson Walker discounted the bill by 25%. According to a JW partner, they did this because the case involved an important First Amendment issue. Hecht raised money from political contributors to pay his legal bills.

4) Texas Watch then filed complaints with the Commission on Judicial Conduct, the Texas Ethics Commission , and Travis County District Attorney (who is still busy trying to salvage his prosecution of Tom DeLay). The complaint alledged that the amount of the discount constituted an improper contribution by a law firm to a sitting judge. The lede for the story that piqued my interest was the confirmation by Earle’s office that they were already investigating the issue.

Justice Hecht is a public official by choice, so he assumes the burden of anyone who seeks the mantle of a public servant to be open to scrutiny about the way he conducts his public life. But these types of complaints are cheap political tricks masquerading as public-spirited fervor. It’s ridiculous that someone’s career can be besmirched like this. Regardless of which political party is in power and doing it to the other, it’s a blatant end run around a failure to achieve political means through established democratic processes. The complaints have been used to justify speculation that Justice Hecht will be forced to step down, or be impeached or otherwise removed from his seat on the Texas Supreme Court. In the future, even if you assume that Hecht is cleared of these latest charges, the tag that he has been accused of this kind of conduct will follow him throughout his career. It’s clear from the quote below, that Alex Winslow, executive director of Texas Watch, which has brought the latest round of complaints, is a political foe of Justice Hecht.

“Hecht is the godfather of the conservative judicial movement in Texas,” Alex Winslow, executive director of Texas Watch, recently told the New York Times. “Extremist would be an appropriate description. He’s the philosophical leader of the right-wing fringe.”

The original complaint was a flimsy pretense, and it was eventually dismissed correctly, but it has led to an on-going legal quagmire over nothing.

Other blogs: The Hecht saga will never, ever, end … apparently, Texas “Non-Partisan” Sees “Right-Wing Fringe”

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One Response

  1. […] bono for me, but not for thee In my post about Justice Hecht’s legal travails, I didn’t mention something that seemed important, […]

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