Rules for the people should also apply to our county judges March 7 2004 Seven weeks ago last Friday, Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Diana R. Hall waltzed into a Santa Maria courtroom like she owned the joint. She’s still acting like royalty. So are court officials who also have become royal pains as they continue to close ranks around their colleague in the aftermath of Hall’s bizarre behavior during Michael Jackson’s Jan. 16 arraignment on child molestation charges. Our black-robed public servants forget that the people own the joint. “She can’t be disturbed,” Hall’s secretary said last Thursday when I stopped by for the second time in a day only to be turned away before asking Hall why she had made a scene in court. Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville, who’s presiding over Jackson’s case and who supervises Hall, also stood mute last week in the face of troubling questions surrounding Hall’s weird behavior. When I stopped by Thursday for an update, Melville’s secretary said she hadn’t heard anything about what one court officer categorized as a “judicial personnel matter.” County officials supposedly were probing Hall’s bad form in the aftermath of the embarrassing public episode. Because I didn’t want to come close to even remotely acting inappropriately, when Melville suddenly appeared in the anteroom I asked the secretary if she would relay my questions to the judge – who was standing about 10 feet away. If she did, Melville dismissed them. The judge didn’t return calls a week after Hall’s unseemly incident, either. Neither did Santa Barbara County President Judge Clifford Anderson or court executive officer Gary Blair. Hall also failed to return detailed messages about her strange behavior. To the best of my knowledge, Hall had no official connection to the Jackson case when she showed up at the early-morning arraignment for one of the most-watched criminal court proceedings in the world. With seats at a premium and security supposedly ready for anything including terrorists, everyone with a legitimate interest in the legal proceeding – court officials, members of the press from around the globe, members of Jackson’s extended entourage and others – behaved admirably. Just in case, though, Melville handed down a “decorum order” that instituted strict rules and threatened violators with criminal contempt charges and/or fines. But that didn’t stop Hall from misbehaving in a manner that still has people wondering about the circumstances surrounding her refusal to leave her seat when a ranking court official asked her to do so. After eventually agreeing to depart, Hall reappeared through the same door behind the judge’s bench that she had used earlier to enter the courtroom. Had Hall received the same security screening and clearance that others received when they entered the courtroom? When Hall returned to the courtroom, why was she still carrying what appeared to be a cell phone, a device specifically prohibited by Melville’s decorum order? Why did a bailiff carry a special chair to the rear of the courtroom just for Hall and why was she allowed to remain for the proceeding when working members of the press were relegated to an “overflow room?” And whatever happened to the “judicial personnel matter” anyway? Just last year a jury acquitted Hall on gun and domestic battery charges after a bad night at home with her domestic partner. Jurors did convict Hall, however, of drunken driving after she took the stand in her own defense and admitted to that crime. In a subsequent investigation, the chief detective from the district attorney’s office accused Hall in court documents of perjuring herself during that testimony. That DA probe continues. Still, the supposed watchdogs of the public trust seem to continue to coddle Hall as they did in the long months that led up to her criminal trial. Their continuing kid-gloves treatment dishonors us all. Even a quick read of the code of ethics for California court employees suggests that Hall’s pattern of behavior might violate several tenets that govern proper conduct and “inspires public confidence and trust” in the courts. At the very least, Hall has not acted to “promote public esteem in the court system.” Mostly, she has not obeyed Tenet Six. “To gauge the propriety of an action, consider how it would be reported in tomorrow’s newspaper,” the code of ethics principle cautions. Consider today’s paper, as well. * Steve Corbett’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He can be reached at 739-2215 or e-mailed at scorbett@pulitzer.net. Read Corbett online at www.santamariatimes.com. March 7, 2004 :nav Source: http://www.santamariatimes.com/articles/2004/03/07/sections/corbett/corbett.txt

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