Ethics Explorer A Guide to the Financial Interests of Elected Officials

Supreme Court Chief Justice Nathan L. Hecht (R)

Industry
State Government
Education
B.A., Yale University; J.D., Southern Methodist University
Financial Statements

Sources of Income

  • Hecht was first elected to the Texas Supreme Court in 1988; he is currently the senior justice and the longest-serving appellate judge in Texas.

  • After earning his law degree, he clerked for Judge Roger Robb on the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

  • He previously worked for the Dallas law firm Locke Purnell Boren Laney & Neely in business litigation.

  • He reports income from HM Investments, an oil and gas firm in Carrollton. He also reports income from Mewbourne Oil Company in Tyler.

Property

  • A Travis County residence valued at $625,052

  • A Carrollton property valued at $198,010.

Analysis

  • In 2006, Hecht was disciplined by the Texas State Commission on Judicial Conduct after he gave more than 100 interviews regarding the qualifications of Harriet Miers, his onetime girlfriend, during her unsuccessful nomination for the U.S. Supreme Court. Hecht appealed the disciplinary action and a panel of apellate judges cleared him of any wrongdoing

  • In March 2007, Hecht asked then-state Rep. Tony Goolsby, R-Dallas, and then then-state Sen. Jeff Wentworth, R-San Antonio, to file a bill allowing him to be reimbursed by the state for his legal fees and expenses related to the Miers case. Goolsby and Wentworth pulled back their legislation when they found out that Hecht had recovered the $340,000 in legal fees with $447,000 in campaign contributions from major law firms. Vinson & Elkins and Locke, Liddell & Sapp each donated $25,000, according to a Texas Watch list; Baker Botts, Haynes & Boone, Thompson & Knight and Texans for Lawsuit Reform each donated $15,000. Hecht told the Fort Worth Star-Telegram that he would reimburse the lawyers’ donations if Goolsby and Wentworth's bills passed and he was given the money back. "If judges are sanctioned like this and it's unjust and it's wrong and they want to prove it, they can represent themselves or hire a lawyer that you can't pay for on a judge's salary," Hecht told the newspaper. "So I can raise the money and be a sleazebag, or I don't raise the money and lose and I'm a sleazebag. So maybe that's not quite a fair system, even for judges." 

  • In 2008, the Texas Ethics Commission fined Hecht $29,000 for failing to report his acceptance of a discount for legal services from Jackson Walker, the firm that represented him in the dispute with the Commission on Judicial Conduct during the Miers saga. The firm claimed that the discount of $57,584 from a bill of $400,000 was donated as pro-bono time because the case involved freedom of speech. The Ethics Commission held that it amounted to a political contribution in excess of the $30,000 limit judges could take from a single law firm, and that Hecht had failed to report it. Hecht has appealed the fine in Travis County state district court; no trial date has been set. 

  • The Texas Supreme Court in 2007 issued an opinion in Entergy Gulf States v. John Summers protecting industrial plants and refineries from some types of liability claims by contract workers. The court ruled that a general contractor providing workers compensation insurance to a subcontractor is protected from negligence claims that may be brought by a subcontractor’s injured employee. Energy and chemical companies, which stood to benefit from the decision, had donated a combined $16,500 to Hecht’s campaigns from 2001 to 2006, according to a review by the left-leaning money-in-politics group Texans for Public Justice. Neither Summers nor his attorneys appear to have donated to Hecht's campaigns. In 2009, the Entergy decision was revised to be a 6-3 vote, with Hecht maintaining his opinion in the majority. 

  • In 2008, Texas Watch reported that Hecht had used political contributions to pay for personal travel, including dozens of airplane flights to his hometown of Carrollton. Hecht said he was campaigning, though he was not up for re-election at the time. 

  • In 2011, Hecht and a majority of the court sided with pharmaceutical company Merck & Co., overturning a jury verdict and Court of Appeals decision in favor of the family of Leonel Garza, who died of a heart attack after taking Vioxx. Hecht had received $20,000 in campaign contributions between 2005 and 2007 from Baker Botts, the law firm representing Merck & Co. The Garza family and their attorneys were not found to have donated to any Supreme Court justices' campaigns.   The decision favoring Merck was 7-0, with the justices determining that expert testimony from an epidemiologist was not sufficient to prove that taking Vioxx caused Garza's heart attack.

  • Asked about hearing cases that could pose potential conflicts, Hecht said that when he first ran in 1988, "there were no restrictions or reporting requirements on contributions and expenditures." 

    "We imposed restrictions on ourselves, most of which are now in the election code," he said.

    Although judges should not rule in cases where they have a direct interest, Hecht said, "that's hard to monitor, since it changes every day. I don't think it has proved practical to limit contributions from lawyers, other than [what] is required by the code, because there's no way to keep up with who has a case." 

    "It's a very fluid state over here," he added. "I think the whole system is regrettable, but I don't see how it can be separated from running elections for judges. ... I've long been concerned about the appearance of the contributions that judges must take to run effective campaigns, but then look bad to people. It's a very unfortunate part of electing judges. I wish we'd change it."