by Martha Sadler
A panel of judges investigating misconduct charges against Santa Barbara Superior Court Judge Diana Hall (pictured) issued its findings this week. The special masters found that Hall violated judicial ethics on three separate occasions in 2001: by driving drunk, by disguising the source of a campaign donation, and by improperly asking a prosecutor the reason why he issued a peremptory challenge to remove her from hearing one of his cases. The latter count was the most egregious, according to the panel, comprising “willful misconduct” because Hall knew she was not allowed to ask that question, but did so anyway; she then denied it. Moreover, she committed this violation in her capacity as a judge. However, the panel also listed several mitigating factors, including that she posed the question in a calm manner and out of genuine surprise, since it was unusual for a prosecutor to recuse her. The panel found that Hall’s anxiety about people discovering that she was cohabiting with a same-sex lover was a major contributing factor to the other two counts. Hall drove drunk in flight from an argument in which her partner threatened to disclose the nature of their relationship, and she lied under oath about the source of the campaign contribution because it was a gift from her partner. The panel also praised Hall’s “long and otherwise exemplary career.” The California Commission on Judicial Performance will determine how the findings will affect Hall — whose term ends in 2008 — later this year.