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The oldest established permanent floating ethics probe in the state

The Chief Justice of our State Supreme Court, ladies and gentlemen.

Nathan Hecht

Texas Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan Hecht, already the longest-serving member of the state’s highest civil court, has the dubious distinction of owning another record: the longest running appeal of a state ethics fine.

With the case dragging into its fifth year, watchdog groups are pointing the finger at Attorney General Greg Abbott for not pressing harder in court for a final resolution.

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Hecht’s case is set to reach its fifth anniversary in Travis County District Court next month, making it by the far the longest-running legal challenge over an ethics panel fine in the agency’s roughly two-decade history.

“This whole matter has been swept under the rug for years and years without any resolution,” said Alex Winslow, director of Texas Watch, which monitors the state Supreme Court and filed the ethics complaint against Hecht. “Greg Abbott has the full discretion for pursuing this case and reaching some resolution for it and for whatever reason he’s opted not to do that.”

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On Tuesday, Abbott’s office said it is not its responsibility to speed the ethics appeal along. That falls on Hecht’s shoulders, according to the Abbott’s office, since he filed the case.

“These watchdog groups’ claims make no sense because, to the extent the case is not advancing quickly, the result is that the attempt to overturn the Ethics Commission’s ruling is not advancing,” Abbott spokesman Thomas Kelley said in a statement.

The watchdog groups, however, said the case has seemingly fallen off the radar for both sides: it has sat dormant for more than a year, with not a document filed since October 2012. That marks the second time the case has gone at least 12 months without so much as a single filing.

With the ethics case hanging overhead, Hecht won re-election in 2012 to the Supreme Court and recently was sworn in for the promotion to chief justice.

“It gets more important every day now. Texans need to know whether the ruling of the Texas Ethics Commission that Hecht violated the law is valid,” said Craig McDonald, director of the watchdog group Texans for Public Justice, which filed the ethics complaint against Keller that resulted in a $25,000 settlement.

“It’s the burden of the attorney general to prosecute the case and from the outside it looks like the attorney general’s office has thrown this case in a dusty file cabinet.”

Abbott’s excuse for doing nothing is mighty convenient when you stop and think about it. As long as Hecht’s appeal is pending, he’s not on the hook for anything. It’s only once his final appeals have finished running their course that he might have to write a check. True, he might beat the rap, but why take the chance if there’s no pressure on him to ever bring this thing to a close? If Greg Abbott has no interest in pursuing a resolution, why should Nathan Hecht? The status quo suits him just fine, thank you very much. Burka, who suggests a way out of this, has more.

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