Boom of the Judicial Canon

By Eric M. Weiss
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 7, 2006

In Texas, calling someone a "spokesman" comes close to fighting words.

Take the case of the Honorable Nathan L. Hecht, a justice of the Supreme Court of Texas and a well-known conservative jurist. A longtime friend of White House counsel Harriet Miers, Hecht gave more than 120 media interviews during her failed Supreme Court nomination. Hecht coordinated strategy with White House aides and agreed to take media calls straight from the White House, according to a recent investigation.

He even joked to the Texas Lawyer newspaper that he was acting as "PR for the White House."

But a "spokesman?'' No way, he told the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct, which last month admonished Hecht for his activities on behalf of Miers. The Texas Code of Judicial Conduct prohibits judges from doing anything to "advance the private interests of the judge or others."

Hecht said his actions did not promote Miers's nomination. He called a New York Times headline that described him as Miers's "spokesman" inaccurate and misleading, saying he had been "simply providing information to people who called."

(Some in Washington might argue that "providing information" is the opposite of what spokesmen for this administration do.)

Earlier this year, a panel of current federal appellate judges testified before Congress on behalf of then-Supreme Court nominee Samuel A. Alito Jr.

Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Arlen Specter (R-Pa.) said there was no conflict of interest, even though a future Justice Alito could review the rulings of the same judges. At the time, Specter said Alito and the judges have "a confluence of interests," not a conflict.

Hecht said he will "vigorously contest" the admonition. "I believe that my statements on matters of national public interest did not offend canons of judicial ethics and were fully protected by the First Amendment," he said in a prepared statement.

Hecht, who said he and Miers have dated over the years, told the commission that his close relationship with the top White House lawyer "made it impossible for him to remain silent when asked by reporters to provide factual information about Miers' background, experience and views on religion and abortion."

Hecht told the commission he had not been speaking for his friend but had merely been "swept up in the task of providing information about [Miers] to those who asked for it."

So don't go calling him a "spokesman."

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