Michael Andrew Hecht ascended to the Pierce County Superior Court bench last year after toiling in relative obscurity during his two decades as a lawyer.
Wednesday, he saw his future as a judge cast into doubt when a jury convicted him of threatening to kill a man and buying sex from a male prostitute.
Jurors acted swiftly and definitively in deciding the case, deliberating for fewer than four hours after a six-day trial before finding Hecht guilty as charged of one count of felony harassment and one misdemeanor count of patronizing a prostitute.
Some people packing the gallery of Courtroom 411 in the County-City Building in downtown Tacoma gasped when King County Superior Court Judge James Cayce read the verdicts just after 10 a.m. Some of Hecht’s relatives began to cry.
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Hecht, 59, is to be sentenced Nov. 19. Because he has no previous criminal record, he qualifies for a special sentencing of zero to 90 days in jail as a first-time offender.
Assistant state attorney general John Hillman, who prosecuted the case, told reporters he had not made a decision about what sentence to recommend.
Cayce allowed Hecht to remain free until sentencing, but he required the judge to report to jail immediately to be fingerprinted and photographed.
Hecht, who denied any wrongdoing as his case worked its way through the legal system, remained defiant after the verdicts.
With his wife and three grown children standing behind him, he told reporters waiting for him in the back of the courtroom that he was the victim of a “setup” by Morgan Armijo – the son of the man Hecht beat in the August 2008 election – and Tacoma police.
The News Tribune also was to blame for his conviction, he said.
“What’s very disappointing is four drug addicts were completely coerced and set up by Morgan Armijo and detective (Bradley) Graham to tell nothing but lies in this courtroom,” Hecht said.
“Complicating the matter was the one-sided, unfair reporting by Adam Lynn of the TNT newspaper, and, at the very beginning, the creation of this ridiculous story and putting everything out there for the public. …
“I say to the jurors they were duped, and I thank them for their consideration in the matter.”
The jury left the courthouse without talking to reporters. Hillman talked to some of them briefly after the verdicts.
“Well, they obviously believed the testimony of the primary witnesses,” Hillman said. “They didn’t think that they had any motivations to lie, and they did not believe the judge’s testimony.”
The News Tribune published a story Jan. 11 that reported Tacoma police and state authorities were investigating Hecht on possible criminal charges.
The newspaper interviewed two admitted male prostitutes – Joseph John Hesketh IV and Edward Dean Smith – who said they’d sold sex to Hecht. A series of other stories followed.
The accusations were brought to The News Tribune’s attention by Morgan Armijo, whose father, Sergio, was the incumbent judge defeated by Hecht.
Morgan Armijo, a private investigator by trade, said Wednesday his investigation of Hecht was not a vendetta. Armijo said he felt compelled to go public with allegations he learned before the August 2008 election that Hecht was patronizing prostitutes because “he was going to be a judge.”
Hecht agreed to take a paid leave from his $148,000-per-year job in March after he was arraigned on the criminal charges, in part to maintain the integrity of the court while his case played out.
A statement issued by Bryan Chushcoff, the presiding judge of Pierce County Superior Court, said Hecht “...will not resume duties as a Superior Court judge while this matter remains pending in the court and before the Commission on Judicial Conduct.”
That commission is to hold a hearing Feb. 22 on charges that Hecht violated judicial canons. The commission could recommend to the Washington State Supreme Court that Hecht be removed from the bench.
Hecht told reporters he hadn’t decided whether to fight for his judgeship.
ADAM LYNN: 253-597-8644