A Santa Barbara County judge known for her toughness has been charged with six criminal violations in connection with an alleged argument with her domestic partner and subsequent arrest on suspicion of drunk driving last month.
The charges filed against Superior Court Judge Diana R. Hall include felony counts of battery on a cohabitant and using a gun to prevent a crime victim from making a report.
She also faces charges of displaying a firearm, driving under the influence of alcohol, driving with a blood alcohol reading above the legal limit of .08% and destruction of a telephone -- to keep her partner from making a 911 call to sheriff's deputies.
Hall's attorney, William Gamble, said Monday that she will contest all but the drunk-driving charges. Hall, who has been on the bench for more than a dozen years, was despondent even before the incident because public defenders had moved to prevent her from hearing any criminal cases, Gamble said.
Under state law, the California Commission on Judicial Performance is required to suspend without pay any judge convicted of a felony. When such convictions are unchallenged or upheld on appeal, judges are removed from office.
"We have to fight these charges," said Gamble, who has represented Hall since her arrest at gunpoint Dec. 21 by Santa Barbara County sheriff's deputies.
"Some are fairly esoteric. I doubt most people ever heard that breaking a telephone is a felony, for example. The fact is that this a routine case about a couple of roommates who got in a little hassle. And the prosecution is making much too much out of it."
Hall, 52, was appointed a Municipal Court judge in 1990 by Gov. George Deukmejian and elevated to the Superior Court in 1998, when the two court systems were consolidated. She previously was a prosecutor in Shasta and Santa Barbara counties.
According to an application for a restraining order by Deidra Dykeman, which was granted after the Dec. 21 incident, Hall and Dykeman had lived together as domestic partners in a Santa Ynez Valley home they owned together for about four years.
Dykeman told court officials that the judge "became very angry and lost control of herself" during an argument.
At one point, she said, Hall produced a handgun and threatened to shoot one of Dykeman's two dogs if Dykeman didn't leave the house. Hall also allegedly pulled Dykeman's hair and broke the phone when she tried to call 911.
According to the restraining order request, Dykeman then ran into the garage with Hall following her, gun in hand. Dykeman said she blocked the door to keep Hall from getting in the garage, but Hall drove off.
Shortly after Hall's arrest, Gamble acknowledged that the judge had been feeling unusual pressure in recent months because of conflicts with defense lawyers. The only criminal judge in the county's small Lompoc courthouse, Hall was known for tough sentencing and a tough judicial style.
County public defenders subsequently have confirmed that they had discussed lodging mass peremptory challenges against Hall, to have her thrown off all criminal cases. That practice, known as "papering" a judge, can sometimes fatally damage a jurist's career by rendering him or her unable to handle cases.
Earlier this month, Gamble said he hoped the charges against Hall would be confined to drunk driving. Prosecutors said they are withholding any decisions on battery or gun charges pending completion of a thorough investigation.
Hall has been ordered to appear Jan. 23 at the county courthouse in Santa Maria for arraignment, said Deputy Dist. Atty. Kimberly Smith. A preliminary hearing date will be set at that time, she said.
Victoria Henley, director and chief counsel for the Commission on Judicial Performance, said Monday that state law does not call for immediate suspension of a judge when charges are made in a criminal complaint. But suspension with pay does begin if a judge is bound over for trial.
After the Dec. 21 incident, Hall was transferred from Lompoc to the Santa Maria courthouse, where she has been preparing to help on civil cases. Gamble said Monday that she is continuing to report for work there.
Gamble said that once he has studied the case in more detail, he may request that the case be transferred outside the jurisdiction of the Santa Barbara County district attorney to the state attorney general's office. Such a change is frequently granted when issues of judicial propriety are involved.