TX watchdog slaps complaint trifecta on SC Justice over law bills

Legal News Line Jul. 25, 2007, 7:19am

Justice Nathan Hecht

AUSTIN -- Controversial Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht could once again find himself in a familiar role - defending himself against charges of judicial misconduct. Consumer group Texas Watch yesterday announced it had filed charges against Hecht with three public agencies over "illegal discounts" from a law firm he hired. The complaints allege Hecht got $100,000 off a $440,000 bill by well known Texas firm Jackson Walker, which frequently appears before the Texas Supreme Court. Hecht incurred the bill during his successful efforts to remove a misconduct sanction imposed on him last year by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct (SCJC). The SCJC said Hecht should not have used his chambers to conduct press interviews boosting old friend Harriet Miers for the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. The complaints against Hecht are the first Texas Watch has brought in its 10-year history. "Justice Hecht's recent actions merit a full and complete investigation," said Alex Winslow, Executive Director of Texas Watch. "It appears that he has abused his position ... by negotiating a sweetheart deal." Hecht's subsequent efforts to pay off the remainder of his bill have also attracted attention across the state. Most recently, records revealed that the justice had delivered favorable Supreme Court verdicts recently to law firms that had given to his legal defense fund, LNL reported. Hecht also tried to stick the Texas taxpayer for his legal bill earlier this year. He was rebuffed in April when the two GOP lawmakers sponsoring the "Hecht bill" heard of the judge's private fund-raising efforts for the same legal costs and dropped theirs. Texas Watch's complaint against Hecht to the Public Integrity Unit charges him with "accepting a gift from a party who the judge knows is likely to appear before him," a breach of the Texas Penal Code. It's punishable by up to one year's jail and a $4,000 fine. The watchdog group also filed complaints with the SCJC and the Texas Ethics Commission. The latter alleges that Hecht's $100,000 "discount" exceeds the statutory $30,000 limit on law firm donations to judges or judicial candidates. Prominent First Amndment Attorney Chip Babcock, who defended Hecht, said he had given Hecht a 25 percent discount as pro bono work. He called it "an extraordinarily important first amendment case." Winslow is calling for a full investigation into Texas Watch's three complaints against Justice Hecht, currently the state's longest-serving Supreme Court Justice.

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