Update on Texas Supreme Court Justices’ Ethics Hearings

As I noted back in July, ethics hearings on grievances filed against Texas Supreme Court Justices Nathan Hecht and David Medina were scheduled to be heard on August 14, 2008.

Chris Rizo, who has covered these complaints for The Southeast Texas Record, reports at LegalNewsline.com that Judge Hecht’s ethics complaint was referred for further grievance proceedings:

AUSTIN, Texas (Legal Newsline)-The Texas Ethics Commission has decided to hold a formal hearing to investigate charges that state Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht accepted an illegal campaign contribution, a watchdog group told Legal Newsline on Friday.

The panel, also on Thursday, postponed the preliminary hearing into charges that Supreme Court Justice David Medina illegally reimbursed himself from his campaign account.

Mr. Rizo also reports that Judge Medina’s complaint was postponed until the regular October meeting of the Texas Ethics Commission:

As for Medina, Texas Watch filed its complaint against him in January. His matter will be taken up behind closed doors at the next regular meeting of the Ethics Commission in October, when the panel will decide whether the case warrants a formal hearing, [Alex Winslow, director of Texas Watch] said.

Read Mr. Rizo’s complete article here .

The Associated Press’ Jay Root also covered the scheduled hearings. He reports via the Houston Chronicle that, (perhaps?) defying conventional wisdom, Justice Hecht represented himself:

AUSTIN — Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht, appearing before the Texas Ethics Commission, defended himself Thursday against allegations he broke campaign finance laws by accepting discounted legal fees to fight an abuse of office complaint.

And that after the unfavorable hearing results, Justice Hecht bravely faced the press:

The state commission took no action Thursday but will consider the matter at a formal hearing later, officials said. Hecht, the longest-serving member of the Texas Supreme Court, quietly slipped past reporters at the state capitol and did not return phone calls from The Associated Press.

* * *

It’s not clear how long Hecht spent at the closed hearing. Reporters waiting for him to emerge were told Hecht had given them the slip.

“He’s been gone,” [Wilhelmina Delco, a member of the Texas Ethics Commission,] said hours after the hearing began early Thursday afternoon. “He eased out the other door.” (Emphasis mine).

As reported by Mr. Root, the complaint against Justice Hecht arose from his support of Harriet Miers’ nomination by President Bush to the United States Supreme Court:

Hecht was sanctioned in 2006 by the State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which alleged that he had abused his office by promoting Harriet Miers for a seat on the U.S. Supreme Court. Legal canons bar Texas judges from endorsing candidates for public office, but Hecht was able to get the sanction reversed on appeal by arguing that Miers was not running for elective office.

But Harriet Miers was more than just a Supreme Court nominee that Justice Hecht has decided to promote: Ms. Miers is also Justice Hecht’s former girlfriend and it was also Justice Hecht who first introduced Ms. Miers and President Bush. Unsurprisingly, this story leads back to President George W. Bush.

Read Mr. Root’s complete article here .

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Texas Watch files ethics complaints against Texas Supreme Court justices

Updated August 15, 2008 with results of August 14, 2008 hearings.

Chris Rizo at The Southeast Texas Record (h/t The Daily Muck at TPMMuckraker) reported yesterday that “[a]t least two Texas Supreme Court justices have ethics complaints pending against them” that were “filed by the judicial watchdog group Texas Watch” and which are scheduled for review on August 14, 2008. Mr. Rizo reports that the

The complaint against [Justice Nathan] Hecht stems from representation by the Jackson Walker law firm in a dispute with the Commission on Judicial Conduct in 2006 over promoting President George W. Bush’s short-lived nomination of former White House Counsel Harriet Miers to the U.S.
Supreme Court.

The complaint against [Justice David] Medina alleges that he may have violated state law by paying himself nearly $57,000 from his political funds over three years as mileage reimbursement for commuting between Austin and his Houston-area home.

Texas Watch announced filing the complaints against Justices Hecht and Medina back in January 24, 2008, at which time they also announced a third complaint against a sitting Texas Supreme Court justice:

AUSTIN – Complaints were filed this morning against Texas Supreme Court Justices Nathan Hecht and David Medina with the Texas Ethics Commission by the citizens group Texas Watch. The complaints allege that the justices used political contributions to pay for personal travel.

* * *

Earlier this week, Texas Watch filed a complaint against Justice Paul Green for violating the same statutory prohibition on converting political funds to personal use by paying for commuting expenses. Texas Watch has also notified the Public Integrity Unit of the Travis County District Attorney’s office of the complaints the group filed today.

Complete January 24, 2008 Texas Watch Press Release here

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Until I read Chris Rizo’s article today, I hadn’t heard of Texas Watch. Texas Watch describes itself as

a non-partisan, advocacy organization working to improve consumer and insurance protections for Texas families. Texas Watch’s thousands of activists across the state make their voices heard to preserve their rights and protections. Texas Watch strives to provide a counter to wealthy special interest lobby efforts and ensure Texas laws reflect the true needs of Texas families and consumers.

The above complaints were filed under its Court Watch project which

[f]or more than a decade, … has served to educat[e] the public about the importance of the Texas Supreme Court. Court Watch serves as a key resource on civil court issues, producing regular reports, analyses and releases to the public, the media and decision-makers. These activities foster broader public awareness, discussion and debate about the role of the Texas civil justice system and the actions of the Texas Supreme Court.

Harriet E. Miers and former Texas Supreme Court justice Alberto Gonzales should be the next project for Court Watch.

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