Thursday, January 24, 2008

Questioned travel expenses

More Justices under fire for travelling expenses.

Jeeze, keep your records better.

BTW the picture has nothing to do with the story. Its winter, I haven't taken any vacation and I want to be there.

Texas Supreme Court justice defends spending for travel
Janet ElliottExpress-News

AUSTIN — Texas Supreme Court Justice Nathan Hecht said Wednesday he charged his campaign account for frequent flights to Dallas but that he was working and meeting with supporters during those visits.

He spent nearly $10,000 from his campaign funds on in-state flights last year, according to reports filed with the Texas Ethics Commission, more than any other justice on the nine-member court.

Hecht, a Republican, denied commuting to Austin from Carrollton, a Dallas suburb where he owns a home. He said he lives in Austin, where he considers a home he has owned for 20 years his primary residence.

"I'm allowed to fly up there for officeholder and campaign purposes," Hecht says. "Those were some of my purposes as well as to see friends, build support."
Texas Watch, a watchdog group, plans to file a complaint today with the ethics commission concerning Hecht's travel.

Hecht is the third member of the high court to come under scrutiny in the past week for alleged improper use of political donations. A 1993 advisory opinion from the Texas Ethics Commission said appellate judges can't use campaign funds to commute from their hometowns to the city where the court sits.

Justice David Medina paid himself nearly $57,000 since 2005 for mileage reimbursement. His lawyer, Terry Yates, said Medina received bad advice from an accountant that he could charge his campaign for commuting costs between Houston and Austin.

And Texas Watch filed a complaint Tuesday against Justice Paul Green, accusing him of improperly spending nearly $17,000 on trips between Austin and San Antonio over the past three years.

Green said he lives in an Austin apartment although he still owns a home in San Antonio with his ex-wife. He said he'd try to document that the 272 trips were for allowable purposes such as speaking to legal groups.

Judges are not required to state where they flew or the purpose of trips within Texas, although they must provide that information for out-of-state travel. Hecht declined to provide information on his Texas travel to the San Antonio Express-News.

"Justice Hecht hasn't provided the public with enough information to determine whether he is toeing the line or crossing it," said Alex Winslow, executive director of Texas Watch. "Texans deserve to know the truth and judges on our state's highest court must be held to the highest possible standard."

Complaints filed by Texas Watch last year against Hecht led to investigations by the ethics commission and Travis County prosecutors. Those probes, which are pending, concern a discount Hecht received for personal legal services from the Jackson Walker law firm.

The allegations are that Hecht failed to report the lowered fees as an in-kind political contribution and that the discount exceeded the $30,000 limit on judicial donations from a law firm. The legal fees stem from Jackson Walker's successful defense of Hecht in a dispute with the Commission on Judicial Conduct over Hecht's promotion of his longtime friend Harriet Miers' short-lived nomination to the U.S. Supreme Court in 2005.

Hecht has served on the Texas Supreme Court since 1989.

He said the Carrollton home belonged to his parents and he kept it after they died. He sometimes has served as an organist at his church in Dallas.

Hecht said it's important for an elected judge to keep in touch with citizens around the state.
"If you sit here in Austin and don't move, you're going to have trouble in the next election," said Hecht, who isn't up for re-election until 2012, having won easily in 2006 against a Libertarian opponent