WA: Request to move judge’s prostitution, harassment trial refused

ADAM LYNN, The News Tribune
Published: 07/01/09 5:21 pm | Updated: 07/02/09 6:22 am

It looks as though Superior Court Judge Michael A. Hecht’s trial on charges of felony harassment and patronizing a prostitute will take place in Pierce County.

The judge presiding over the case rejected Hecht’s request for a change of venue Wednesday.

King County Superior Court Judge James Cayce left open the possibility of changing his mind if jury selection becomes difficult. But he said didn’t see enough evidence that Hecht’s right to a fair trial had been prejudiced by news coverage.

In a separate ruling, Cayce also rejected Hecht’s request to dismiss the count charging him with patronizing a prostitute.

Hecht’s attorney, Wayne Fricke, made a motion to dismiss the charge based on the fact that the young man authorities contend sold sex to Hecht recently changed his account to say he didn’t.

Cayce said the charge will stand.

“Clearly, it’s a question for the jury,” he said.

State prosecutors allege Hecht threatened to kill a man in downtown Tacoma last summer and bought sex from another man on multiple occasions this year and last.

Hecht has pleaded not guilty to both counts. He’s to go to trial Sept. 8. In the meantime, he’s taken a voluntary leave of absence from the bench. He continues to collect his $148,000-a-year salary.

In a written motion and during argument Wednesday, Fricke contended trial should be held somewhere outside the County-City Building in downtown Tacoma to ensure his client’s right to a fair hearing.

Reporting on the case, specifically in The News Tribune, has been intense, inflammatory and sensational, the attorney said. Fricke wrote in a pre-trial motion that The News Tribune had deliberately poisoned the jury pool with its reporting and editorials.

“You definitely should presume prejudice in this case,” Fricke told Cayce during a morning hearing at the Regional Justice Center in Kent, where Cayce keeps his chambers. “The coverage is on-going, and it’s going to be on-going in this case.”

Assistant Attorney General John Hillman countered that Hecht’s case has not received the kind of saturation coverage other high-profile cases have gotten. Hillman pointed out that Wednesday’s hearing was attended by only one news reporter and fewer than 10 other people, including three of Hecht’s supporters and a Tacoma police detective.

The state prosecutor also argued that having knowledge about the case doesn’t automatically disqualify someone from being a juror if that person asserts he or she still has an open mind about the facts.

Cayce agreed.

“I’ve never had a problem picking a jury, even in a case that’s been fairly well publicized,” the judge said.

Cayce did ask the attorneys to request that Pierce County Superior Court administrators call an extra-large jury pool when Hecht’s case is scheduled to go to trial.

Cayce postponed decisions on two other motions, one from Hillman and another from Fricke.

Hillman has asked to introduce into evidence testimony from people who say Hecht has cruised downtown Tacoma for years to pick up male prostitutes.

That evidence, Hillman contends, is necessary to show the charged crimes are part of “a common scheme or plan” by Hecht to pick up prostitutes and intimidate people who might report him for it.

Fricke opposes the introduction that evidence, saying it unfairly prejudices Hecht.

Cayce intends to hold a hearing with witness testimony on Hillman’s motion at a later date. Until then, he also reserved his ruling on Fricke’s motion to hold separate trials on the harassment count and the count of patronizing a prostitute.

Adam Lynn: 253-597-8644
adam.lynn@thenewstribune.com
blogs.thenewstribune.com/crime

Original at The News Tribune

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