Judge on Trial Claims Tacoma Paper ‘Poisoning’ Fair Chance

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By: Joe Strupp

A judge on trial in Washington State for allegedly trading cash for sex and making death threats is seeking a change of venue, claiming the News Tribune of Tacoma has made it difficult for him to receive a fair trial, the newspaper reported Wednesday.

Superior Court Judge Michael A. Hecht requested the criminal case against him be tried outside Pierce County, claiming in court papers that “the Tacoma News Tribune has deliberately poisoned” his right to a fair trial, the paper reported.

“The newspaper’s executive editor and chief editorial writer on Tuesday stood by The News Tribune’s coverage of Hecht,” the paper reported, adding “The judge’s attorney, Wayne Fricke of Tacoma, filed a request for change of venue Friday. Hecht is to go to trial June 8 at the County-City Building in downtown Tacoma on one charge of felony harassment and one misdemeanor charge of patronizing a prostitute.”

The state Attorney General’s Office claims Hecht exchanged cash for sex with a young man several times during the past year and threatened to kill another man in Tacoma, the News Tribune reported.

The judge has pleaded not guilty and denied the charges.

“Fricke contends in his motion that coverage of Hecht’s case has been so intense, ‘biased’ and ‘inflammatory’ that his client cannot get a fair trial in Tacoma,” the paper reported.

“Unlike most cases, the public has now been saturated with potential trial testimony as well as the local newspaper’s opinion delving into the facts of the case as well as the local newspaper’s views on Judge Hecht personally,” Fricke wrote in his motion, which included several News Tribune articles, editorials and a guest column on the case.

The News Tribune’s chief editorial writer, Patrick O’Callahan, said in the story that the newspaper’s editorials on Hecht never suggested the judge should resign or be convicted, only that he should stop hearing cases until the criminal charges against him are resolved.

“That seems like common sense to me, not a ‘deliberate’ poisoning of his right to a fair trial,” O’Callahan said in the story. “This opinion section has a responsibility to serve as a watchdog on government officials, including Michael Hecht. If we had ignored such serious criminal and ethical accusations, we would have abdicated that responsibility.”

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