Pierce County Superior Court Judge Michael A. Hecht has resigned his seat on the bench.
Hecht, 59, notified the court and Gov. Chris Gregoire of his decision by letter Monday. He departure takes effect Nov. 16 – three days before his scheduled sentencing on charges of felony harassment and paying a man for sex. A jury returned guilty verdicts against Hecht last week.
“Regrettably, as a result of my conviction in Pierce County Superior Court, in order to uphold the integrity of the court system of which I feel strongly about, I do not believe I have any choice but to resign,” Hecht’s letter stated.
Before and during the trial, Hecht said he was innocent. His letter underscored that position, hinting that he will appeal his conviction.
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“It is my intent to keep fighting to reverse this injustice and reinstate my good name,” Hecht wrote. “But I will do that independently of attempting to remain on the bench under the current situation. I have requested nothing in return for this resignation.”
By resigning, Hecht will remove himself from the county payroll. His annual salary is $148,000. He hasn’t worked since March, when he took a paid leave of absence shortly after the criminal charges were filed.
His decision forestalls a clash between the executive and judicial branches of Pierce County government. The debate revolved around the process of removing Hecht from the bench.
Judge Bryan Chushcoff, who presides over the Superior Court, released a statement welcoming Hecht’s decision. “It was probable that but for Mr. Hecht’s resignation, it would be some considerable time before the matter would be resolved,” Chushcoff wrote. “We believe that this decision will begin to restore public confidence in the court and will allow the governor an opportunity to appoint a new judge who can help shoulder the heavy workload in Pierce County Superior Court.”
Hecht’s decision triggers the search for his replacement. The process could take as long as three months. Superior Court judges are elected, but vacancies are filled by appointment. Gregoire will make the selection after consulting with leaders of the state and local bar associations.
Reiko Callner, executive director of the state’s Commission on Judicial Conduct, said Hecht’s resignation wouldn’t necessarily stop her agency’s investigation into the judge’s behavior. The commission’s fact-finding hearing is set to begin Feb. 22.
News Tribune staff writer Adam Lynn contributed to this report.