A state appeals court Wednesday struck down the conviction of a former Laguna Niguel doctor who had been accused of sexually battering female patients.
The 4th District Court of Appeals in Santa Ana ruled that Del Dalton did not receive a fair trial because the judge unexpectedly questioned him about the allegations in front of the jury.
A jury convicted Dalton in 1999 of sexually battering three patients.
He was placed on probation and later lost his medical license.
During the trial, Judge Pamela Iles brought the jury to Dalton's office so they could view the alleged crime scene.
It was during that visit that Dalton was sworn as a witness and questioned by the judge in front of the jurors. Iles then allowed the prosecutor, and even a juror, to cross-examine Dalton.
At least part of the questioning took place outside the presence of Dalton's lawyer, the appeals court noted.
The former doctor maintained that his office was so small that it would have been impossible to assault a patient without alerting employees or other patients.
The judge asked Dalton to explain why he had locks on his office doors.
Dalton's appeals lawyer, E. Nicholas Hansen, said the judge's questioning was improper and violated his 5th Amendment protection against self-incrimination. Dalton had no idea the judge would subject him to questioning, Hansen said.
In its opinion, the appeals court called the questioning "egregious" and noted that "there is no indication he was prepared for questions by the court or the prosecutor at his office."
The Orange County district attorney's office has not decided whether to ask the state supreme court to review the case, a prosecutor said.