Tuesday, February 27, 2007
CJP Clears Two Judges Removed From Diana Hall Case
By TINA BAY, Staff Writer
Two former special masters who were relieved from hearing the case of now-removed Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Diana R. Hall due to assertions they had prejudged the matter have been cleared of all charges of impropriety, the Commission on Judicial Performance said yesterday.
In a departure from the normally confidential nature of its investigations, the commission issued a press release stating that investigations against San Joaquin Superior Court Judge George J. Abdallah and San Mateo Judge Mark R. Forcum have been closed without any disciplinary action.
“Although commission investigations are confidential, the California Constitution permits the commission to make explanatory statements,” the commission explained. “Commission rule 102(d) also permits the commission to issue a statement of clarification and correction when public reports concerning a commission proceeding result in substantial unfairness to the judge involved in the proceeding.”
Abdallah and Forcum had been appointed to Hall’s judicial misconduct case along with Monterey Superior Court Judge Michael S. Fields, but all three special masters were removed by the California Supreme Court last January after the commission concluded the panel had been compromised based on allegations made by a declarant in an unrelated civil case.
In the declaration, filed Nov. 16, 2005 in the Monterey Superior Court case of Forte v. O’Farrell, case No. 72599, former court employee Crystal Powser alleged that Fields invited her to the Pierpoint Inn in Ventura where he, Abdallah and Forcum were staying while hearing Hall’s case. At the hotel, she said, Fields told her he and the other special masters had discussed Hall’s case at length and pre-determined she was guilty of all three charges brought against her.
The day after Powser’s declaration was filed, the commission issued an order staying proceedings in Hall’s case. On Dec. 15, 2005, it petitioned the state Supreme Court for an order relieving Fields, Abdallah and Forcum and the appointment of new special masters to commence a de novo hearing in Hall’s case.
The court rejected Hall’s claim that the alleged misconduct of the masters was so great a violation of her due process rights as to justify dismissing the case outright, and instead appointed new masters on Feb. 9, 2006 who conducted a de novo hearing and reported their findings to the commission.
Powser’s declaration, which also graphically detailed Fields’ alleged sexual advances toward her, along with the subsequent removal of the original special masters from Hall’s case were “the subject of considerable publicity,” prompting yesterday’s explanatory press release, the commission said.
San Francisco-based attorney Kathleen Ewins, who along with Joseph P. McMonigle represented Abdallah and Forcum, told the MetNews:
“We believe the commission appreciated that our clients’ reputations could be tainted by association with the allegations, and took the unusual step of letting the public know that they did not do anything improper whatsoever.”
The judges were aware of the commission’s action, she said, and appreciated the commission’s efforts to clear their names.
“If, for example, you google their names the Powser declaration pops up, and the commission’s press release goes a long way to making sure that there’s something else out there that demonstrates that, in connection with the Hall matter, they’ve committed absolutely no impropriety.”
Commission Director and Chief Counsel Victoria Henley told the MetNews she had no comments regarding Fields, and clarified that the press release pertained only to Forcum and Abdallah.
A call to Fields’ counsel was not returned.
Hall, who had been a Superior Court judge since 1998, was formally charged in July 2005 with driving while intoxicated, violating campaign finance laws, and threatening a prosecutor who filed a Code of Civil Procedure Sec. 170.6 challenge in order to have her removed from a case.
In a 10-0 decision, with one member not participating, the commission on Dec. 12 found the allegations true and ordered her removal from the bench.
The decision became final last month, leaving Hall with 60 days 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.
Copyright 2007, Metropolitan News Company