The Justice Hecht saga continues.
On Sunday, Senior Associate Justice Nathan L. Hecht of the Texas Supreme Court filed a report to the Texas Ethics Commission detailing the donations he received from contributors to pay the legal bills he incurred in successfully challenging the wrongful admonition the State Commission on Judicial Conduct issued him in May 2006.
Well, the editorial board of the Austin American Statesman has taken exception to Justice Hecht’s fundraising, saying that “[t]he lawyers and law firms who didn’t give to Hecht would not be unreasonable in fearing they were at a disadvantage when going up against those who did.”
This reasoning by the Statesman editorial board is–to borrow a Scaliaism–“sheer applesauce.”
First, I have personally worked with Texas judges who, because of our regrettable system of partisan judicial elections, have been forced to raise funds to secure their jobs. As bad as it admittedly looks to have lawyers and firms appear before the judges to whom they contribute, the mere appearance of impropriety does not make it so. By and large, the lawyers who choose to take the requisite HUGE paycut in order to serve their fellow citizens as members of the judiciary are: (1) obviously not all that impressed by money in the first place; and (2) perfectly able to separate the tacky election system to which they must adhere from the jurisprudential duty they have sworn to uphold. Justice Hecht is no exception to this observation.
I realize, however, that this concept seems impossibly naive and to most journalists who only see corruption and vice in their elected officials.
Second, if a judge were going to be swayed by dollar signs, why would money contributed in one context be more corrupting than that contributed in another? As Justice Hecht has stated, there is no meaningful difference between these two types of contributions, and any that does exist would not be more or less enticing to someone predisposed to shame their office.
Third, the Statesman Board’s supposition that other appellate counsel wouldn’t be “unreasonable” in feeling disadvantaged if they weren’t from a law firm that had contributed to Justice Hecht’s defense fund reveals a further fundamental misunderstanding of the legal system, and appellate practice in particular. Appellate counsel would be wise to worry far more about the quality of their research, briefing, and oral argument, rather than who contributed how much to whom. Moreover, as the Statesman Board may not be aware, SCOTX sits en banc, instead of in three-judge panels as do the fourteen courts of appeal, so the loss of one vote for whatever reason at SCOTX has far less impact on the eventual disposition of the petition than it might with an intermediate appeal.
No thx to the Statesman