Judging the Judge

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.

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