Explanation lacking on Judge Hall’s behavior

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Explanation lacking on Judge Hall’s behavior Michael Jackson sat expressionless when Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Rodney Melville chastised him for insulting the court by showing up late at last week’s criminal arraignment. Superior Court Judge Diana R. Hall, however, became defiant when she showed up early for Jackson’s arraignment and was asked to move because she was sitting in a seat reserved for a member of the working press. At least defendant Jackson had reason to be there. What was Hall’s official purpose when she showed up in Department 9 and grabbed one of the most sought-after seats in the world? And, why was she carrying what appeared to be a cell phone in apparent violation to the “Decorum Order” issued by Judge Melville that threatened a contempt charge and/or fine for violators. Members of the press and others couldn’t even bring a briefcase, let alone a cell phone. And, after Hall left the courtroom following what appeared to be a tense discussion with Superior Court Assistant Executive Officer Darrel Parker, why was the 53-year-old jurist allowed to return with cell phone in hand? As an officer of the court, did Parker feel intimidated by demands of a higher-ranking officer of the court? Whatever happened, a bailiff eventually carried a comfortable chair to the rear of the courtroom where Hall sat wearing a look of annoyance on her face as heads turned her way. Also, if Hall is not assigned to the Jackson case in any official capacity, why was she allowed to enter the highly secured courtroom through a courtroom door located behind the judge’s bench? Jackson, members of his famous family, celebrity lawyers, members of the international press and others received physical pat-downs after passing through metal detectors. Did anybody search Hall? After all, the woman is on probation. You’d think Hall would be on her best behavior after a jury acquitted her on gun and domestic battery charges last year following her arrest in a widely-publicized case. A jury convicted Hall of drunken-driving after the judge admitted to that crime while testifying in her own defense. District Attorney Tom Sneddon and prosecutors from his office are now contemplating a perjury charge against Hall stemming from that testimony during which she also testified about money she received from her domestic partner during her re-election campaign. Creating a scene in court last week only raises new concerns about Hall’s judgment. One journalist of national renown who witnessed Hall’s behavior in court expressed astonishment when told that Hall is a local judge with no apparent connection to the Jackson case. Local journalists also seemed amazed at Hall’s actions during the most closely watched legal proceeding in the history of this county, whose citizens pay her salary. But getting court officials to talk about Hall doing as she pleased in an otherwise highly controlled setting might be more difficult than getting an interview with Jackson. President Judge Clifford Anderson failed to respond to two detailed requests for an explanation. So did Melville, the presiding judge in the Jackson case. Court Executive Officer Gary Blair also failed to return two detailed messages. Hall also did not return calls to answer questions left with her secretary about the judge’s presence in the courtroom during Jackson’s arraignment. You’d think somebody in an official capacity would at least offer the courtesy of an explanation in a case that holds the attention of the national legal community and the world press. Superior Court Executive Officer Parker was the only county official willing to offer the “official version” about Hall’s latest predicament. “At this time it’s a judicial personnel matter that we can’t comment on,” Parker said. “You’re likely to hear this same response several times.” “It’s real interesting,” I said. “I know,” Parker said. Does that mean that any questions regarding this matter would be met with the same response? “At this time, yes,” Parker said. Critics have already expressed doubt that Santa Barbara County officials are capable of handling such a high-profile case. Until now, I’ve publicly defended the court. Now I’m not so sure. * Steve Corbett’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He can be reached at 739-2215 or e-mailed at scorbett@pulitzer.net. Jan. 25, 2004 :nav Source: http://www.santamariatimes.com/articles/2004/01/25/sections/corbett/corbett.txt

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