A judge watches from the sidelines: Diana Hall – Melville

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A judge watches from the sidelines By Steve Corbett/Times Columnist Jan 19 2003 Out of place and alone in the jury box, Superior Court Judge Diana R. Hall listened intently to the young woman testifying from the witness stand. The case involved custody of a child, an ex-husband and a domestic nightmare. Hall is immersed in a domestic nightmare of her own. That’s why the 52-year-old veteran jurist found herself sitting in exile Thursday morning while Santa Barbara County Superior Court Assistant Presiding Judge Rodney S. Melville tended to judicial duties. Officially, Hall is “studying” civil court proceedings in Santa Maria while her own case moves through the criminal justice system, Melville said Wednesday, when we talked in his chambers about the logistical fiasco that Hall’s current legal problems have presented to the court. The next day, Hall must have surely felt out of place as she listened to detailed discussion about normally private life that had now become public. Hall might soon find herself in the witness box discussing the private details of her own personal life. Prosecutors have lodged six criminal charges against Hall that officials say stemmed from a domestic dispute with Hall’s partner, Deidre Dykeman. For now, Hall prefers to remain silent — at least about the two felonies and four misdemeanors that include accusations she brandished a gun, physically attacked her partner and used force to prevent Dykeman from calling for help. Hall also is charged with driving with an alcohol content police say was more than twice the legal limit. Although I went looking for Hall Wednesday morning, I didn’t expect to accidentally find her sitting in Judge Melville’s waiting room. But there she was, behind the locked security door that opened when Melville’s assistant buzzed me in. After some initial small talk, during which Hall said she was feeling well, she politely referred me to attorney William Gamble. I explained that I had previously spoken with Gamble and now needed details from the court. I needed to know how Hall’s colleagues on the bench planned to handle this predicament that could put Hall behind bars for years. Not long after Hall’s Dec. 21 arrest, court officials removed her from her Lompoc criminal court duties, saying that the move to Santa Maria civil court was unrelated to the charges against her and was part of a normal rotation. Melville said Wednesday that he and his colleagues agreed Tuesday to a “study” period for Hall, who is paid $140,000 a year, until the results of her arraignment and subsequent preliminary hearing are clear. If charges are bound over for court, Hall will be prohibited from hearing cases until her case is finally decided, Melville said. Despite the major predicament that attorney Gamble recently said was brought on by job-related stress, Hall remained cordial after I asked to talk about her legal problems. Although she declined, she was willing to talk quietly — and at length — about happier times. Pointing to the butterflies exhibited on Melville’s office wall, I mentioned that I had recently gone to see the monarchs who winter in a grove near Pismo Beach. Hall recalled driving through a large number of butterflies that had suddenly appeared in the roadway. Several of the colorful creatures splattered against the windshield. “It was sad,” Hall said. Somehow, talk then turned to Ireland. Irish on her mother’s side, Hall recalled a trip of a lifetime that remains one of her most cherished memories. Although she looked tired, her expression brightened at talk of the Irish environment and the familiarity of the culture. “California cows aren’t the happiest cows,” Hall said with a gentle laugh as she referred to a popular television commercial. “Irish cows are the happiest cows.” Staying for two weeks in the country town of Ennis as part of a house exchange, Hall said she discovered a small restaurant where the food was so good she returned “almost every night” for dinner. Hall also spoke of her parents and how they moved to California from Ohio when she was 5 because of her childhood asthma. As bad as each day might be for Hall, simple thoughts of yesterday seemed to help ease her pain. Quieting the sad disorder in the court won’t be easy. Neither will quelling the sad disorder that plagues this lost judge’s life. * Steve Corbett’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He can be reached at (805) 739-2215 or e-mailed at scorbett@pulitzer.net. Read Corbett online at www.santamariatimes .com. Jan. 19, 2003

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