Of courts, credibility and common sense – Diana Hall

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Of courts, credibility and common sense May 16, 2004 At 10 o’clock Thursday morning, a lawyer stood in a Santa Maria courtroom and called Santa Barbara County Superior Court Judge Diana R. Hall “your honor.” That’s a matter of opinion. Hall once again finds herself accused of crimes that could send her to jail. The people of this county once again find themselves paying a judge who might not be fit for the bench. And I once again feel the need to stress that nobody seems to be picking on Hall just because she’s a woman, a lesbian or on the wrong side of a political power struggle between District Attorney Tom Sneddon and the world. Gender, sexual orientation and dirty politics constitute possible reasons for Hall’s persecution and prosecution, according to several lawyers with whom I have privately discussed Hall’s seeming endless predicament. But if Hall, 53, is being singled out and victimized on those or other unjustifiable grounds, no evidence to support the claims has surfaced. If prosecutors believe laws have been broken and that they can prove it – prosecutors should absolutely file charges and go to court. That’s what they did last week, when they charged Hall with eight misdemeanors stemming from her handling of about $25,000 in contributions during her 2002 re-election campaign. Prosecutors said they became aware of the alleged crimes last year during Hall’s trial on charges of domestic violence and drunken driving. Hall is currently on probation for the misdemeanor drunken driving charge to which she admitted when she testified in her own defense. A jury acquitted her of the other charges, including using a gun to threaten the woman with whom she was living. Now, just like then, all good citizens can do is depend on the system to resolve Hall’s case – the very same system that Hall represents each time she picks up her paycheck in exchange for upholding the public trust. Because legal bills and other expenses likely cost Hall plenty, she no doubt will resist any attempt to suspend her without pay while the new charges are adjudicated. But since Hall seems immune to judicial discipline, why worry? Resignation also seems unlikely. So does a voluntary recusal from all public court duties. Besides, the law apparently allows Hall to reign. But each time Hall takes the bench, the credibility of the court diminishes. The judicial robe becomes a cheap suit worn by a sharpie on probation who has admitted to a crime. Hall’s behavior remained unpredictable even after her trial. The judge made a bizarre public scene before the world media when she showed up – on probation, of course – in the press section at celebrity Michael Jackson’s first arraignment. Superior Court Judge Rodney S. Melville, who’s hearing the Jackson case and who supervises Hall, eventually allowed her to sit in a special VIP seat at the rear of the courtroom. A court spokesman later said that court officers were reviewing Hall’s actions as part of a secret internal personnel matter. Months later, officials still refuse to provide details about the volatile incident. Now, as even more high-powered members of the world press prepare to descend on Santa Maria should Jackson come to trial, the gatekeepers of one of our most central public institutions are looking more and more like rubes willing to take care of their own at all costs. The loss of credibility in the court is a cost no responsible citizen should be willing to bear. Credibility – the word itself – came up time and time again in court last week while Hall presided over a civil case. We need to “even the scales of justice,” the plaintiff’s lawyer said. Hall should consider “credibility and common sense,” the lawyer said. The defendant’s lawyer then accused the plaintiff of exhibiting a total lack of “credibility.” “Not believable,” he said. “Veracity,” he stressed. Hall considered the evidence. Then she awarded damages to the plaintiff who claimed she had suffered a whiplash injury after being rear-ended by an SUV. The beauty of small claims court is that you can take common sense into consideration, the judge said. The court of public opinion possesses a similar beauty. Common sense dictates that Hall’s credibility no longer exists. * Steve Corbett’s column appears Tuesday, Thursday and Sunday. He can be reached at 739-2215 or e-mailed at scorbett@pulitzer.net. May 16, 2004 :nav Source: http://www.santamariatimes.com/articles/2004/05/16/sections/corbett/corbett.txt

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