SAN FRANCISCO — A former city health commissioner here was ordered to pay $5 million for allegedly infecting a former lover with HIV and lying about his medical condition.
Superior Court Commissioner Loretta M. Norris ordered former official Ronald Hill to pay the award, which included $2.5 million in punitive damages, last month. The decision was made public this week.
On Friday, the San Francisco district attorney's office said it would consider filing criminal charges against Hill, who was appointed to the city's Health Commission in 1997 by Mayor Willie Brown.
Under state law, it is a felony to intentionally expose someone to HIV, prosecutors say.
"What this man did was wrong on so many levels," said Thomas Lister, Hill's former lover. "What surprised and appalled me most was that a person appointed as a public health guardian on the basis of his HIV status would lie about his condition and knowingly infect someone with HIV. It's sickening."
Lister filed suit in January 2001 after discovering papers revealing Hill's HIV status. Norris issued a summary judgment in the case after Hill did not respond to the suit or appear in court. Hill, 44, could not be reached Friday.
Lister, 36, a manager at an area brokerage firm, said he met Hill in March 2000 shortly after moving to San Francisco from New York City. At the time, he said, both men professed to be HIV-negative. The two had unprotected sex, according to Lister's lawsuit.
Months later, Lister discovered medical papers from Hill's doctor that bore evidence of his HIV status.
"When I showed him the papers, he said, 'What is this?' And I said, 'I think you know what this is. It has your name on it.' But all he gave me were excuses, saying he was taking medication only as a preventive measure because a former lover had the disease."
Lister said he soon began to feel ill, and a test in October 2000 confirmed that he had contracted the disease. He said he had been monogamous during his and Hill's five-month relationship. Baron Drexel, Lister's attorney, said his client continued to contact Hill after the couple broke up and that Hill continued to deny having HIV.
Hill resigned from his post in October 2000 after he was arrested in Sonoma County for allegedly passing $3,000 in bad checks.
In an interview with a local legal paper shortly after Lister filed his suit, Hill denied having lied to him, saying he had made no secret about his HIV status.
Drexel said the judge's decision "sends a message that lying about sex, and in particular whether you have a disease like HIV, is outrageous and not acceptable.
"Especially in Mr. Hill's position, that makes the culpability all that much greater," he added. "This has all the elements of betrayal. Whether you're talking homosexual or heterosexuals, everyone in our society in this day and age fears this reality."
Lister said he filed a police report, but was told by local prosecutors that they would not charge Hill because they could not prove intent on his part.
After the recent legal decision, Lister said he again contacted the office of Dist. Atty. Terence Hallinan and was told the prosecutors would pursue the case.
Fred Gardner, a spokesman for Hallinan's office, said the case is difficult because to get a conviction, prosecutors would have to prove an intent to give another person the virus.
"This is a new area," Gardner said. "It may be the first case of its kind to come to this office."
In a much-publicized case in 1989, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury handed down a $21-million verdict against the estate of deceased actor Rock Hudson because he had kept his AIDS infection secret from his lover. Marc Christian, Hudson's partner, later tested negative for the virus. A judge reduced the award to $5.5 million.
Lister said he has not seen Hill in nearly a year. He wants him to go to jail:
"There needs to be jail time for a just punishment. He needs to spend several years in a cell to sit and think about what he did."