Voters turn against Texas chief justice after learning of record, poll says

By David Yates | Feb 26, 2014

HOUSTON (Legal Newsline) - A new poll, devised to highlight one of Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht's more controversial rulings, shows voters are less likely to vote him after learning about the 22-year-old ruling.

On Feb. 25 Texans for Justice, a group with the aim of dethroning the current Supreme Court justices up for re-election, issued a press release stating that more Republican voters would choose candidate Robert Talton over the incumbent after learning about Hecht's record.

Next week, Hecht will square off against Talton, a former state representative, in the March 4 primary. Also, Justice Phil Johnson will face appellate Justice Sharon McCally, and Justice Jeff Brown will go against Joe Pool.

As previously reported, the Republican candidates challenging the incumbents have received the bulk of their donations from plaintiffs attorney Mark Lanier and attorneys with connections to his firm, the Lanier Law Firm in Houston.

The poll, conducted by Mason-Dixon, surveyed 625 likely Republican primary voters last week and found:

  • Fifty-eight percent of voters would be less likely to vote for Hecht after learning that he ruled a woman is not entitled to damages if her boyfriend secretly videotapes them having sex and then releases the video to the public.

  • Fifty-six percent would be less likely to vote for Hecht after learning he had a $29,000 ethics fine imposed on him for campaign contribution violations.

When asked to provide more details about Hecht's ruling, Texans for Justice emailed Legal Newsline an excerpt from a Houston Chronicle article written on Dec. 6, 1992.

The article says Hecht did not author the ruling but did concur with the majority opinion that a woman wasn't entitled to damages for emotional distress from a former boyfriend who had secretly videotaped the couple having sex and later showed the tape to friends.

In December 2008, the Texas Ethics Commission fined Hecht $29,000 for accepting and failing to report an illegal political contribution from a law firm. Hecht is still in the process of appealing the fine.

According to an article in the Houston Chronicle, the case involves a discount Hecht received for personal legal services from Jackson Walker. Hecht reported paying the law firm $342,416 from his political fund after initially receiving an invoice for more than $400,000. TEC held that the discount amounted to a political contribution that Hecht had neglected to publicly report.

According to the press release, voters who hadn't been told of Hecht's record supported him 34 percent to 11 percent for Talton, with 55 percent undecided. Those numbers flip-flopped when voters learned of Hecht's record, it said.

After learning about Hecht's record, 38 percent of voters favor Talton, and 25 percent would select Hecht, with 37 percent undecided, according to the poll.

The endeavor was funded by Balance PAC, which supports the challenging Republican candidates.

From Legal Newsline: Reach David Yates at elections@legalnewsline.com.

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