Wednesday, December 13, 2006
CJP Orders Removal of Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Hall
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday ordered the removal of Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Diana R. Hall from the bench, saying she engaged in willful misconduct, lied about it, and could not be trusted to obey ethical rules if allowed to remain in office.
In a 10-0 decision, with one member not participating, the commission found that Hall drove while drunk, violated campaign finance laws, and threatened a prosecutor who filed a Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 170.6 challenge in order to have her removed from a case.
The decision becomes final in 30 days, and Hall will then have 60 days in which to petition the state Supreme Court to overturn the removal order. In the interim, she is barred by the state Constitution from sitting as a judge.
Hall previously admitted having engaged in prejudicial misconduct by driving a motor vehicle while intoxicated and by misreporting a $20,000 campaign donation, claiming that it came from her personal funds when she actually got the money from her then-domestic partner Deidra Dykeman.
The commission, however, went further, rejecting Hall’s claim that her responsibility for the elections law violation was mitigated by the fact that she was not aware of the specific requirements of the Political Reform Act.
Ignorance Claim ‘Specious’
The CJP, like the three special masters who heard evidence in the case, said the judge’s claim of ignorance of the law was “specious.” And if Hall, as an incumbent judge, truly did not know and did not research the laws governing her conduct as a candidate for re-election, that was an aggravating, not a mitigating, factor, the commission said.
“Public confidence in the judiciary is seriously impacted when the public learns a judge, one who is entrusted to apply the rule of law, does not read and therefore does not abide by the law,” the commission said. “The public can have no confidence in a judge, and hence a judiciary, that is required to know and respect the law but does neither.”
The commission also disclosed for the first time that Hall was privately admonished for conduct that occurred in 2004 during a hearing on the sexual assault charges against Michael Jackson at the Santa Maria courthouse where Hall has sat for several years.
Hall, the CJP said, took a seat in the press section of the courtroom, which had only limited seating for the hordes of people who wanted to be present, despite being told by Judge Rodney Melville, who was hearing the case, that there was no seating available.
When Hall was asked by a court official to leave the seat to take a phone call from the presiding judge of the court, she said she would not speak to him without her attorney present. And when a bailiff asked if the seat had been assigned to her, she said, “It is now.”
In communication with the CJP, Hall later said she took the seat in order to show District Attorney Thomas Sneddon, whose office is in Santa Barbara and who did not normally appear in Santa Maria, that she was “no worse off than before he had occasioned the wrath of his office to come down upon me following my irresponsible and unlawful act of driving under the influence of alcohol.”
Hall’s relationship with Dykeman became public, and her legal problems began, when the two women had an argument at the home they shared in northern Santa Barbara County just before Christmas 2002.
Sheriff’s deputies, summoned by Dykeman, stopped Hall’s car and gave her a sobriety test, which showed a blood alcohol level of 0.18.
Jurors convicted her of driving while impaired and driving with a blood alcohol level in excess of the 0.08 percent threshold. Suspended from the bench with pay while facing felony charges, she was reinstated after being acquitted of one felony count of dissuading a witness by force or threat and misdemeanor counts of domestic battery and exhibiting a firearm.
Campaign Finance Charges
Another felony charge, stemming from Hall’s alleged destruction of a phone during the confrontation with Dykeman, was dropped after jurors deadlocked 11-1 in favor of conviction. Hall was placed on three years’ summary probation on the drunk driving conviction.
The campaign finance charges stemmed from a routine audit of Hall’s successful campaign for re-election in 2002. Auditors found that Hall made a $25,000 loan to her campaign five days after Dykeman wrote her a check for $20,000, which was deposited in Hall’s personal account, but which Dykeman testified, and the commission found, to be a campaign contribution or loan.
The commission found that Hall violated the law by swearing falsely, in four reports filed with the Fair Political Practices Commission, that she was the sole source of the $25,000. She also, the CJP said, violated laws requiring that the true source of every donation and loan of $100 or more be disclosed, that a donor of $5,000 or more be advised that he or she may be required to file major donor reports with the FPPC, and that funds intended as a campaign donation or loan not be commingled with the candidate’s personal funds.
Argued With Attorney
The commission said it was clear that Hall had been untruthful with it by saying she did not report Dykeman as the source of the funds because she considered the money to be hers as well as her partners. The commission noted that the two had not registered as domestic partners and had kept their finances private, and said it was clear that Hall wanted to hide her relationship with Dykeman from the public because of feared backlash from conservative voters.
The commission also found that Hall had improperly argued with District Attorney Kevin Duffy after he filed a Sec. 170.6 challenge in a domestic violence case. The CJP rejected a charge that Hall had threatened Duffy with retaliation, but said that a judge acts unethically by responding negatively to a proper and timely peremptory challenge.
Hall graduated from California State University, Northridge, in 1972. She went on to earn her law degree from the University of LaVerne and was a prosecutor in Shasta and Santa Barbara counties for 13 years before then-Gov. George Deukmejian appointed her to the Santa Barbara County Municipal Court in 1990.
She has been a Superior Court judge since 1998. Her attorney, Rebecca D. Lizarraga of Encino, did not return a phone call.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company