Wednesday, September 24, 2003
Alameda County Judge D. Ronald Hyde Ordered Removed From Bench
By DAVID WATSON, Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday removed an Alameda Superior Court judge from the bench for making improper sexually explicit comments, manipulating a court docket to benefit a family member, and other misconduct.
The commission’s order removing Judge D. Ronald Hyde becomes final in 30 days but is subject to discretionary California Supreme Court review.
Ten members of the 11-member commission agreed with a panel of special masters appointed by the Supreme Court who found, after a March hearing, that Hyde had been discourteous and demeaned the judiciary in November 2000 when, during a visit to the Pleasanton courthouse by the court’s new executive officer, he told an anecdote about a court worker engaging in oral sex with another man in a courthouse parking lot years earlier.
One of the commission’s public members, Betty L. Wyman, did not participate in deciding Hyde’s case. The commission is composed of three judges, two lawyers, and six public members.
In an opinion signed by its chairperson, Santa Clara Superior Court Judge RisÎ Jones, the commission found that Hyde was also guilty of other misconduct found by the special masters. Removal was appropriate, the commission said, because Hyde had been disciplined five previous times.
Hyde received a severe public censure in May 1996 for a variety of misdeeds, including making sex-related comments to female court employees. He also received three advisory, or “stinger,” letters and a private admonishment.
The commission said that while Hyde’s purpose in telling the off-color anecdote was to be entertaining, his conduct tended to bring the judicial system into disrepute.
Agreeing with the findings of the special masters—Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Joseph F. Biafore, Shasta Superior Court Judge Bradley L. Boeckman and Sacramento Superior Court Judge Talmadge R. Jones—the commission also found that Hyde:
•Manipulated the small-claims calendar at the Pleasanton courthouse so that an attorney he knew through the Rotary Club would be sitting as temporary judge to hear a small-claims case involving his daughter, Suzanne Hyde.
•Engaged in willful misconduct by asking a traffic clerk to access the confidential Department of Motor Vehicles records of a driver who had cut him off in traffic.
•Took “improper action” by granting an early termination of probation, based upon a defendant’s ex parte written request, without notifying counsel.
•Showed favoritism or failed to disclose a conflict in the case of a woman who asked to have her drunk-driving probation cut short so that she could enter the Air Force. The judge was a friend of the woman’s father, the president of the Pleasanton school board, and should have recused himself or at least disclosed the conflict before granting the request, the commission said.
•Improperly helped the wife of a domestic violence defendant on his calendar pursue marriage dissolution proceedings and had an improper ex parte communication with the woman. The commission concluded Hyde “became embroiled in the matter” rather than remaining impartial.
•Improperly communicated with another judge about a felony drug case in which Hyde had been disqualified, asking the judge not to reduce the defendant’s bail, which Hyde had increased from $60,000 to $350,000.
Citing discrepancies between his filings in the discipline proceedings and his testimony at the hearing before the special masters, the commission also said Hyde had shown a “lack of candor” in dealing with the charges against him. The masters, the commission noted, found several of Hyde’s explanations for his behavior lacked credibility.
The commission noted that Hyde received advisory letters in October of 1992, April of 1996, and February of 1998, and a private admonishment in June of 1997, in addition to the 1996 public censure. Several of the instances of misconduct cited in those disciplinary actions were similar to the conduct involved in the current charges against Hyde, the commissioners pointed out.
While Hyde presented evidence of his contributions to his community, any mitigating effect of that evidence was “lessened by the fact that Judge Hyde’s 1996 advisory letter and his 1996 public censure chastised him for not keeping his community and judicial activities separate,” the commission said.
“When it publicly admonished Judge Hyde in 1996, the commission accepted Judge Hyde’s assurances that he was aware of the inappropriateness of his actions and had taken steps to ensure that they would not be repeated,” the commission’s decision related. “The record before the commission shows that these assurances were hollow. Not only did Judge Hyde repeat some of the very acts of misconduct for which he was disciplined, but it appears that he did not review the Code of Judicial Ethics to determine what he could and could not do.”
The commissioners added:
“Judge Hyde’s persistence in violating the standards of judicial conduct, his inability or unwillingness to learn from prior discipline, and his general approach to the commission and to this proceeding preclude the commission from having any confidence that he will not continue to violate the Code of Judicial Ethics if allowed to remain on the bench.”
In addition to Pichon, Third District Court of Appeal Justice Vance W. Raye, Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Madeleine I. Flier, Santa Monica attorney Marshall B. Grossman of Alschuler Grossman Stein & Kahan, San Francisco lawyer Michael A. Kahn of Folger Levin & Kahn, and public members Crystal Lui, Jose C. Miramontes, Penny Perez, Ramona Ripston, and Barbara Schraeger voted in favor of the commission’s findings and the decision to remove Hyde.
Then-Gov. Jerry Brown named Hyde, a family law attorney, to the Livermore-Pleasanton-Dublin Municipal Court bench in 1982. He became a superior court judge when Alameda trial courts were consolidated in 1999.
Hyde was to have retired from the bench in June, according to press reports. But his attorney, Harlan B. Watkins of Murphy, Pearson, Bradley & Feeney of San Francisco, said yesterday the judge has not retired.
Watkins said Hyde has been working in the court’s Oakland branch and will retire effective Oct. 16, about a week before the commission decision becomes final. He acknowledged the retirement would have no effect on the commission’s action.
The attorney said he and the judge were disappointed in the commission’s ruling. Watkins said the judge presented “substantial evidence” of his work on behalf of the Pleasanton community.
“I don’t think the commission really gave that evidence enough weight,” the attorney said.
As for the commission’s conclusion that Hyde lacked candor in dealing with the misconduct charges, Watkins said that impression resulted from “general statements” made by the judge at the evidentiary hearing in March “that were misconstrued” by the special masters.
Copyright 2003, Metropolitan News Company