A jury has found a Pierce County Superior Court judge guilty of felony harassment and patronizing a prostitute, a conviction that he called "absolutely a setup."
A jury has found a Pierce County Superior Court judge guilty of felony harassment and patronizing a prostitute, a conviction that he called “absolutely a setup.”
Judge Michael Hecht had been accused of paying one man for sex and threatening to kill another man who talked about having sex with him.
The judge denied the accusations on the witness stand and testified that he had only tried to help young men as a grandfatherly figure. He has said the accusations were politically motivated.
The 59-year-old will be sentenced Nov. 19. He faces up to 90 days in jail.
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After the verdict was announced Wednesday, The News Tribune of Tacoma reported, two of Hecht’s grown children and his wife, who sat through the trial, started crying. They hugged Hecht.
“It’s OK. It’s OK,” he told them.
Hecht said he was happy for the love of his family.
He said he was set up by the authorities and the son of the man he defeated in the election for the judgeship.
“It’s absolutely a setup,” Hecht said. He said jurors were duped.
Assistant Attorney General John Hillman contended that Hecht bought sex from one young man on multiple occasions in 2008 and 2009 and threatened to kill another who last summer was telling people about his alleged previous sexual relationship with Hecht.
Hecht’s attorney, Wayne Fricke, argued in his closing statement that Hecht is an honorable man whose efforts to help struggling members of society gave his political enemies ammunition to attack him.
Hecht was elected to the Pierce County bench in August 2008, and he was sworn into office Jan. 12, the day after The News Tribune reported that Tacoma police were investigating him.
Hecht took a voluntary leave of absence from his $148,000-a-year job in March after his arraignment on the two criminal charges.
Hecht also faces charges brought by the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct. The commission has alleged Hecht violated the state’s judicial-conduct code by allegedly exchanging cash and legal advice for sex, threatening two men, using racially insensitive language and engaging in unfair campaign conduct.
A hearing on those charges is set for February.
Hecht told reporters he hadn’t decided whether to fight for his judgeship.
The Boston-area native went to law school in his mid-30s after a career in upholstery and furniture sales.
He opened a small practice in Tacoma, specializing in representing people accused of low-level crimes, small-business owners looking to incorporate, policy holders feuding with their insurance companies, and surviving relatives seeking to settle a will.
He first ran for judge in 2004, unsuccessfully challenging Sergio Armijo, who’d fared poorly on a survey of judicial performance sponsored by The News Tribune.
Hecht tried again in 2008 and frequently cited Armijo’s poor showing on a Bar Association-sponsored survey of judicial performance. That time he won.
In an interview last October, before the allegations against him surfaced, he told the newspaper the job would be the best he’d ever had, with a good salary and full benefits. Up to then, he’d relied on his wife’s job for medical coverage.