Former Pierce County judge seeks $1.5 million after convictions overturned

Michael Hecht testifies during his trial on charges of patronizing a prostitute and felony harassment.
Michael Hecht testifies during his trial on charges of patronizing a prostitute and felony harassment. Staff file, 2009

A former Pierce County judge whose convictions of harassment and patronizing a prostitute were overturned on appeal is seeking $1.5 million in redress from the state.

A lawyer for Michael Hecht, 65, filed the “complaint for restoration and restitution” in Pierce County Superior Court in January.

Attorney Donald Powell of Tacoma cited an appeals court rule, Rule 12.8, in seeking relief for Hecht.

The rule states that certain people whose cases are overturned on appeal can request the trial court “enter orders and authorize the issuance of a process appropriate to restore to the party any property taken from that party, the value of the property, or in appropriate circumstances, restitution.”

The state Attorney General’s Office is reviewing the lawsuit, agency spokesman Peter Lavallee said Friday.

Hecht qualifies for relief under the rule, Powell wrote in his pleading, because he satisfied the conditions of his sentence after a Pierce County jury in 2009 convicted him of patronizing a prostitute and felony harassment.

Prosecutors alleged he bought sex from at least one man and threatened to kill another after learning he might be talking about Hecht’s sexual activities.

Hecht maintained his innocence throughout the legal proceedings against him and argued the prosecution was part of a political vendetta by the judge he unseated.

King County Judge James Cayce sentenced Hecht to 30 days in jail but converted the time to 240 hours of community service.

Cayce ordered Hecht to attend “john school,” where people who patronize prostitutes are educated about the negative effects of their behavior. Hecht lost his law license in the fallout.

The former judge fulfilled all of the terms of his sentence, court records show.

The Washington State Court of Appeals overturned Hecht’s convictions in 2014, saying he didn’t receive a fair trial because of inflammatory PowerPoint slides presented by the prosecution during closing arguments.

The state decided not to retry him.

Powell argued in the complaint for restoration and restitution that Hecht is due reimbursement of his attorney’s fees (about $59,000) and refund of court-ordered fines, fees and “john school” costs ($4,400).

He also seeks:

▪ $750,000 for “the severe deterioration of his physical and emotional health” in the wake of his convictions.

▪ $446,000 in lost salary from the judgeship he resigned.

▪ $240,000 for four years of attorney work he was unable to perform.

▪ The $50,000 he thinks it will take to regain his law license.

Rule 12.8 generally applies to fees and fines a defendant is ordered to pay as a result of a conviction and any property seized as part of a criminal case, said attorney Barbara Corey, who does appellate work as part of her Tacoma-based criminal defense practice.

Corey had not reviewed Hecht’s complaint, so she could not comment on it directly, but said lost wages and other damages “are outside the scope of the rule.”

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644, @TNTAdam