Courts

State prosecutor asks appeals court to reconsider Hecht ruling

Staff writerMarch 25, 2014 

The assistant state attorney general who prosecuted former Pierce County Judge Michael Hecht thinks the state appeals court made a mistake in overturning Hecht’s criminal convictions for threatening to kill a man and soliciting a prostitute.

In pleadings filed earlier this month, John Hillman asked the Court of Appeals for Division I to reconsider its February opinion that awarded Hecht a new trial.

The three-judge panel last month ruled that “flagrant and ill-intentioned conduct” by Hillman during his closing argument in Hecht’s 2009 trial denied the former judge of a fair hearing.

Specifically, the appeals panel ruled Hillman’s use of photographs of Hecht with the word “GUILTY” superimposed on them crossed the line.

“There is no legitimate purpose for such images in a criminal trial,” the panel wrote. “We conclude that the prosecutor’s slides undermined Hecht’s right to a fair trial by creating the substantial likelihood of a verdict improperly based on passion and prejudice.”

In a 20-page motion filed March 10, Hillman begged to differ.

“The court’s opinion overlooked the standard of review requiring Hecht to show ‘clear and unmistakable’ expressions of personal opinion in the record,” Hillman wrote. “The court’s opinion further overlooks important principles of law that a prosecutor’s argument, including visual aids, must be considered in context.”

The assistant attorney general said the slides with Hecht’s photos and another questioning his credibility were small parts of a long and involved closing argument that relied on evidence to make its points.

“The court’s opinion places undue emphasis on three slides that were a secondary accompaniment to the prosecutor’s verbal remarks,” he wrote.

Efforts to reach Hecht’s appellate attorney, Stephanie Cunningham of Seattle, were unsuccessful Tuesday.

Cunningham argued in a previous brief that Hillman treated her client unfairly.

“The prosecutor used highly prejudicial images and improper arguments in closing in an effort to sway the jury into returning guilty verdicts,” she wrote. “It was prejudicial and violated Hecht’s constitutional right to a fair trial.”

Hecht resigned his seat on the Superior Court bench in 2009 after being convicted of felony harassment and patronizing a prostitute. The Washington State Supreme Court later disbarred him and forbade him from ever again seeking a judgeship.

He’d been accused of buying sex from one man and threatening to kill another for disclosing their sex-for-money relationship.

Hecht has maintained his innocence.

Janelle Guthrie, a spokeswoman for the state Attorney General’s Office, said Tuesday the office would await the appeals court’s decision on Hillman’s motion for reconsideration before deciding whether to take the case to the state Supreme Court.

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8653 adam.lynn@ thenewstribune.com

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