Justice raises $340,000 for legal fees in Miers caseHecht seeks legislation to recover costs; group says state shouldn't pay
By WAYNE SLATER / The Dallas Morning News
Friday, March 16, 2007
AUSTIN – Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht has raised $340,000 in contributions to pay legal bills in defending himself against charges that he violated judicial ethics in promoting Harriet Miers' failed U.S. Supreme Court nomination.
And he has asked Rep. Toby Goolsby, R-Dallas, to introduce a bill allowing him to sue the state to recover his attorneys' fees.
In a February fundraising letter to political donors, Justice Hecht said "there may be no decision [on his dispute with the state] for years. Meanwhile, I must raise the funds myself. I hope you will help me with this burden."
On Thursday, Justice Hecht said he had collected $340,000. "I got enough to cover the fees," he said.
The Republican justice said he still wants the Legislature to pass the bill permitting him to sue the State Commission on Judicial Conduct.
That panel publicly admonished Justice Hecht last year, accusing him of improperly using his office to build support for Ms. Miers' appointment.
Justice Hecht, a close friend of Ms. Miers', spoke publicly and conducted private conference calls with groups the White House sought to influence on her behalf, including evangelicals.
In one call, he told a group of Christian conservatives that he was confident Ms. Miers would support overturning the 1973 decision legalizing abortion, according to those who attended. Ms. Miers later withdrew from consideration for the high court.
A special court of review dismissed the sanction against Justice Hecht, but it did not find that the commission had acted improperly.
Andrew Wheat of Texans for Public Justice, a nonprofit group that tracks campaign money, said the state should not be forced to reimburse Justice Hecht.
"Either the state should pay the legal bills over everyone who's acquitted of state charges, or it should pay the legal bills of no such exonerated party," he said.
"Justice Hecht seems to think his case is more important than that of every Joe Schmo charged by the state."
Justice Hecht said that because the admonition was overturned, the state should pay his legal costs. State law protects the government from such lawsuits, but the Legislature can make exceptions.
"The legislation would let any judge in these circumstances get their attorney fees," he said. "If a judge doesn't have it, he really faces a lot of bad alternatives."
Justice Hecht also said judges don't make enough money to pay the high legal bills from such litigation and can't allow an attorney to represent them for free because it would look improper.
He said the law firm that represented him contributed some of its time for free and agreed to designate some of its fees as an in-kind campaign contribution.
The names of the Hecht donors will be disclosed July 15 when state officials file their next campaign disclosure reports.