Judge Michael Heavey Answers Complaint He Abused Office By Speaking Out On Amanda Knox Case

Last summer, I wrote a post about the Amanda Knox case, and mentioned how King County Superior Court Judge Mike Heavey was among the local people trying to help Amanda.

Judge Michael Heavey

I wrote that Judge Heavey wrote to the to the Italian council that regulates judges to protest the leaks from the prosecutor, police and prison officials to the tabloid press.  Well, I read last month in Mary Whisner blog last month that the judge was accused by the Judicial Conduct Commission of violating judicial ethics rules by writing that letter.  The complaint alleges that Heavey misused the prestige of his office by advocating for Knox and criticizing the Italian authorities prosecuting the case.  The complaint alleges that Heavey may have violated the state rule that judges “should not lend the prestige of judicial office to advance the private interests of the judge or others.”  Apparently, what real irked the commission is that Heavey wrote the letter on official court stationary.  In Heavey’s response that he filed with the commission, he seems to concede that he should not have used official stationary.  Judge Heavey’s daughters attended the same school as Amanda Knox.

My question is this:  Since when can’t judges (at least in their private capacity) write letters to speak out on civil rights abuses overseas?  If the judge had spoken out in defense of Aung San Suu Kyi in Burma, I don’t think the judicial conduct commission would have cared.  Maybe when the country is a fellow NATO country things are a little different.  Also it should be pointed out that Judge Michael Heavey made it very clear that he was writing the letters not as a judge but as a father.  Doesn’t that make a difference?  Let’s buy Judge Heavey some of his own stationary at Office Depot, and then maybe the CJC will dismiss the charges. 

For prior posts on the Amanda Knox case see here, here, here, here, and here.

2 Responses to “Judge Michael Heavey Answers Complaint He Abused Office By Speaking Out On Amanda Knox Case”

  • Joseph Bishop:

    The state of Washington Code of Judicial Conduct web page list a lengthy history of specific decisions — mostly judges seeking prior approval of actions. I can’t find even one decision that speaks to the issue of how the rules apply to courts in foreign lands. As best I can tell they almost certainly apply to “high quality” courts such as in Europe or Canada, but probably not at all to places like North Korea or Iran.

    A useful hypothetical: Suppose a judge had a large extended family in an African or Asian Nation that was in turmoil. Perhaps the judge was highly respected in his native land for his successful career in America. No one would object if the Judge used the prestige of his office to prevent a genocidal massacre. It could happen. The intent of the legislation is clearly not to interfere with such an action. It follows that the quality of the judicial system can determine how the judge may act in intervening. If the Judge were to argue that the Italian system was so deficient that he had a right to act, there are many arguments he could make.

    Judge Heavey argues that he was engaging in a legitimate activity which had the ancillary effect of aiding Amanda Knox. The judge is allowed to engage in a dialog intended to improve the law overall or to address deficiencies in another courts implementation of the law.

  • Paul:

    This is a thoughtful article Steve and your point about Aung San Suu Kyi is a good one. Indeed, the CEO of the Commission that has charged Judge Heavey herself publicly supported efforts to free Roxana Saberi, the young Iranian-American woman who was imprisoned in Iran. Don’t get me wrong. I believe she had every right to call for Saberi’s release and heartily applaud her for doing so. But surely what she did was not all that different than what Judge Heavey did. Both were decrying what they saw as injustices experienced by young American women in a foreign country.

    The charges against Judge Heavey feel to me like bureaucratic overreach. I hope common sense prevails.

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Steve Graham is a criminal defense lawyer, and he splits his time between Spokane and Seattle, Washington. Visit his website by clicking: www.grahamdefense.com
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