Legal Ethics

Texas Firms Pay $447 K to Defend Judge

Law firms and attorneys in Texas donated $447,000 to help an embattled state supreme court justice defend his integrity, according to recently revealed expense reports.

With the help of these contributions, Justice Nathan Hecht prevailed in his appeal of an ethics citation for allegedly misusing his judicial office to help his former girlfriend, Harriet Miers, in her short-lived, unsuccessful effort to win appointment from President George W. Bush to a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005. The justice had granted about 120 media interviews in support of her candidacy, for which he was publicly admonished in 2006 by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, reports the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

Hecht paid more than $300,000 in legal fees and may still owe more for his successful appeal of the admonition (a three-judge panel in Fort Worth reversed the sanction in October, saying the judicial conduct code is unclear), according to the newspaper. But now some are criticizing Hecht’s campaign to raise money to pay his legal bills—although the Texas Ethics Commission says such fund-raising is appropriate, and Hecht himself says it is essentially no different than elected judges raising money to campaign for office, which is a common, accepted practice in Texas.

Major law firms including Vinson & Elkins and Baker Botts donated as much as $30,000 to Hecht’s defense fund, and Miers’ firm, Locke Liddell & Sapp, contributed $25,100.

One consumer advocacy group now says the justice should recuse himself from cases involving donors. “These are not just run-of-the-mill campaign contributions,” says Alex Winslow, executive director of Texas Watch. “But for the largesse of a few powerful, moneyed interests, Justice Hecht would be paying these expenses out of his own pocket. I think it is unfortunate that Justice Hecht fails to recognize the significance of the contributions people made to his personal legal defense and the questions it raises about his ability to be impartial.”

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