Thursday, October 31, 2002
CJP Sets Hearing for Judge Accused of Manipulating Calendar to Benefit Kin
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer/Appellate Courts
A hearing has been scheduled for Jan. 21 in the case of an Alameda Superior Court judge accused of having improperly used his authority to help his daughter and the daughter of an acquaintance with cases before the court, along with other acts of misconduct, the Commission on Judicial Performance announced yesterday.
The public hearing for Alameda Superior Court Judge D. Ronald Hyde will take place at 9:30 a.m. at the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals headquarters in San Francisco. The special masters who will hear the case, appointed by the California Supreme Court, are Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Joseph F. Biafore Jr., Shasta Superior Court Judge Bradley L. Boeckman, and Sacramento Superior Court Judge Talmadge R. Jones.
The commission initiated proceedings against the 58-year-old jurist in June. Six counts of misconduct were originally charged, but a seventh count was recently added in an amended notice.
Hyde’s attorney, James Murphy of San Francisco, said yesterday that he anticipated that the hearing will go forward, although a settlement is possible. “We feel fairly confident in our position” that the judge did nothing wrong, he said.
Hyde is accused of manipulating the small-claims calendar at the Pleasanton courthouse where he sits, so that an attorney he knew through the Rotary Club would be sitting as temporary judge to hear Suzanne Hyde’s small-claims case. Hyde claims he forgot the case was on the monthly night-court calendar until hours before it was to be heard, so he arranged for attorney John Harding—who is on the county’s small claims temporary judge panel—to hear the calendar instead.
Suzanne Hyde won her case.
Hyde said in his response that he had no cases pending in which Harding was involved and has had no such cases since, that Harding’s integrity was beyond question, and that there have been no financial dealings between Harding and himself or his daughter.
The judge also denied that he 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. He acknowledged that she called him ex parte, but said he told her she would have to file a formal request, which she did.
The judge said he did not have a close relationship with the woman’s father, who is the president of the Pleasanton school board, although they supported some of the same local charities. He granted her request, he said, in accord with the usual practice at the Pleasanton courthouse that misdemeanor probation be terminated early if the defendant has complied with all requirements and needs early termination in order to enter the military.
Hyde also denied another allegation of having granted an early termination ex parte. Hyde said another judge ended the defendant’s probation while Hyde was on vacation, and Hyde merely responded to the defendant’s letter, knowing judicial action already had been taken, in accordance with his usual custom of congratulating defendants who had complied with their probation requirements.
Hyde is also accused of asking a traffic clerk to run a Department of Motor Vehicles check on a driver who had cut him off in traffic. In his response, Hyde claimed he saw the person driving erratically and requested a DMV report only to help him decide whether to report the driver to police, which he did.
The judge is also accused of having used graphically sexual language with a male colleague in the presence of female court workers. He claims he only confirmed somebody else’s anecdote about a court worker engaging in oral sex with another man in a courthouse parking lot years earlier.
Another allegation is that Hyde helped the wife of a domestic violence defendant on his calendar pursue marriage dissolution papers. Hyde claims he merely referred the woman to a sheriff’s deputy, who served the husband with dissolution papers while he was in custody. Hyde denies asking for a fee waiver for the woman or having any inappropriate ex parte contact with her.
The amended notice alleged that Hyde 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. The other judge granted the defendant’s motion to reduce the bail to the original figure, the commission said.
The response said Hyde “has no recollection” of speaking to the other judge about the case after Hyde was disqualified.
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.
The commission issued Hyde a severe public censure in May 1996 for a variety of misdeeds, some similar to those of which he’s now accused. Hyde didn’t challenge the censure, writing to the commission that he was “aware of the inappropriateness of the actions ... and these actions will not be repeated in the future.”
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company