(CN) – A former state court judge can be reimbursed for a class he was ordered to take about the harms of soliciting sex workers, the Washington Court of Appeals ruled on Tuesday.
In 2009, a jury convicted former Pierce County Superior Court judge Michael Hecht of paying a man for sex and threatening to kill another man who spoke publicly about having sex with him.
The charges stemmed from rumors that arose during Hecht’s campaign for judge in 2008, which were reported to police.
Hecht vehemently denied the charges, claiming he was set up. He said he sometimes picked up transients and gave them work, but never paid anyone for sex.
Because of the convictions, which were later reversed, Hecht was forced to resign as judge and was disbarred.
Prosecutors and state witnesses said that Hecht drove by two men he suspected of going public with information that he had paid another man for sex.
“You better not be talking about me,” Hecht allegedly said. “If I find out you are talking about me, I am going to kill you.”
The state appellate court overturned the convictions in 2014, concluding that, during closing arguments, the prosecutor improperly put the word “GUILTY” in large red letters over Hecht’s face in PowerPoint slides.
“There is no legitimate purpose for such images in a criminal trial,” the appellate court panel wrote then. “We conclude that the prosecutor’s slides undermined Hecht’s right to a fair trial by creating the substantial likelihood a verdict improperly based on passion and prejudice.”
As part of his initial conviction, the trial judge had ordered community service for Hecht, which he appealed.
Part of the sentence involved Hecht to attend “john school,” a diversion program that educates men about the harms of hiring sex workers.
Hecht sought more than $1.6 million in restitution from the state after his convictions were overturned. Of that amount, the court ordered only $2,050 for the money he paid in legal financial obligations and a blood draw.
Hecht appealed, and this week a division of the appellate court concluded that he should be reimbursed the $750 tuition for “john school.”
“The trial court found that Hecht had received benefit from John School and reimbursement would amount to unjust enrichment. This was an abuse of discretion,” Acting Chief Judge Michael J. Trickey wrote.
“Hecht was entitled to restitution of the money paid in satisfaction of his now vacated judgment and sentence. This includes the cost of the required John School.”
The panel disagreed with Hecht, however, that trial judge James Cayce should have recused himself from the restitution motion.
“Judge Cayce made critical statements about Hecht’s guilt, but acknowledged that Hecht had already suffered greatly and gave him a lenient sentence,” Trickey wrote for the panel.
“John school” as a legal diversion program started more than 20 years ago with the San Francisco District Attorney’s office, called the First Offender Prostitution Program.
Similar programs have been established across the U.S. since then.
In Portland, Oregon, the Sex Buyer Accountability and Diversion program requires first-time offenders to attend an eight-hour class at their own expense, and must remain arrest-free for a certain period after taking it.
A ten-year study of the program in San Francisco found that it reduced re-arrests for soliciting prostitution by 40 percent, according to researcher Michael Shively.