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Washington Supreme Court Reverses Judge's Indigency Status Denial

The En Banc Washington state Supreme Court reversed a lower court's denial of a judge's motion for indigency status.

Soon after he was elected to the Pierce County Superior Court Bench, Judge Michael A. Hecht was convicted of felony harassment and patronizing a prostitute. He was sentenced in November 2009 and resigned from the bench.

Hecht was represented by retained counsel at trial and sentencing. Counsel forgave $15,000 that Hecht owed for his defense but declined to represent him pro bono on appeal.

Hecht filed a notice of appeal and moved for indigency status. The superior court denied indigency status without entering findings. "Hecht moved to supplement the record with evidence that he had begun receiving food stamps." Despite that fact, the court again denied indigency status, finding that Hecht "had 'adequate means' to pay the expenses of appeal." The Court of Appeals denied review.

The Supreme Court, reversed, holding that under RCW 10.101.010(1)(a), any party receiving public assistance, including food stamps is considered an indigent person. "Hecht is therefore presumptively indigent because he receives public assistance in the form of food stamp benefits." As such, "the trial court erred in denying his motion for indigency status altogether." See: State v. Hecht, 264 P. 3d 801, 173 Wash. 2d 92 (2011).

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Related legal case

State v. Hecht