In the continuing saga of the sometimes ethics-challenged Texas Supreme Court, Justice Nathan Hecht was ordered to pay a $29,000 fine yesterday for accepting an illegal campaign contribution and failing to report it. Here are excerpts from a Dallas Morning News article today:
In a public hearing before the decision of the Texas Ethics Commission, Justice Hecht rigorously denied the accusation that a cut rate he received on a legal bill – ironically stemming from his defense of an earlier ethical question – was a gift of services that amounted to a political contribution.
The commission ruled otherwise, finding that the services exceeded legal limits on what judges can accept and that he failed to report the gift on his state disclosure reports.
“I’m disappointed, but I respect the commission’s decision,” Justice Hecht said after the four-hour hearing. He added that he is weighing whether to appeal the judgment in state district court.
The ethics complaint dovetails with a May 2006 admonishment leveled by the Texas Commission on Judicial Conduct, which reprimanded Justice Hecht for publicly supporting the nomination of Harriet Miers to the U.S. Supreme Court. Judicial canons prohibit judges from taking sides on political questions.
Justice Hecht successfully challenged the admonishment before a special court, which found he was exercising free speech rights in defending the qualifications of Ms. Miers, a longtime friend. But his one-year legal fight resulted in a $476,000 lawyer tab.
Alex Winslow of Texas Watch, a consumer group, said that he was pleased with the commission’s finding, although the $29,000 penalty was a small fraction of the potential fine. “That said, this represents accountability for Justice Hecht,” he said.