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Most Serious Charge in Doubt in Trial of Judge

Jurist hearing the Santa Barbara case says she may dismiss a felony count involving a gun. The charges arise from a domestic dispute.

August 26, 2003|William Overend | Times Staff Writer

SANTA BARBARA — Over protests from the prosecution, a trial judge said Friday that she is considering dismissing the most serious charge against another judge accused of battery during a drunken argument with her domestic partner.

As the defense and the prosecution rested their cases, Judge Carol Koppel-Claypool said she will rule today on whether to throw out a charge that Superior Court Judge Diana R. Hall used a gun to dissuade a witness from talking to police last year.

Hall, 53, faces six charges in connection with an alleged drunken argument with her former partner, Deidra Dykeman, 39, on Dec. 21.

Dykeman testified early in the trial that Hall pulled her hair, bit her, threatened to shoot one of her dogs and walked through the house with a loaded .38-caliber revolver while she was making a 911 call that night.

Hall testified Monday that most of the story was made up and that she never touched a gun or Dykeman during the argument.

After the 911 call, Hall drove away from her Santa Ynez Valley house and was arrested later on suspicion of drunk driving. Her blood-alcohol level was 0.18%, more than twice the legal limit.

Hall denied all charges connected to the alleged battery, but she did not deny driving under the influence. "That's the biggest mistake I made," she said. "I drank and I got behind the wheel of the car. And I will regret that the rest of my life."

Hall faces four misdemeanor charges: battery, brandishing a gun, driving under the influence and driving with a blood-alcohol level higher than 0.08%. She is also facing two felony charges. One is damaging a telephone to block a 911 call. The other is dissuading a witness, with an enhanced charge of using a gun.

Before Hall's testimony, defense lawyer Jack Earley asked the judge to dismiss both felony counts, but especially zeroed in on the gun issue. He said the prosecution had failed to prove that Hall used a gun in any threatening way.

Saying Hall faces a mandatory prison term if the felony gun enhancement is upheld, he argued that the 911 transcript shows the call for help was well underway when Dykeman began yelling that Hall had a gun.

When Koppel-Claypool said that she also had problems connecting the gun to the call, Assistant Dist. Atty. Kimberly Smith said that should be a question for jurors to decide.

Protesting Earley's mention of a possible prison term as an improper attempt to influence the trial judge, Smith added: "I get the feeling this court is really biased against my witness."

Koppel-Claypool, 64, a retired municipal judge from Victorville, served six years on the bench before stepping down. She now sits as a judge-for-hire.

Since Hall's arrest, a tight gag order on lawyers and a policy of sealing pretrial hearings from public scrutiny kept most of the trial evidence secret.

The Times protested the policy April 15. The judge subsequently has begun making some documents public.

Attorney Susan Seager, representing The Times, filed a request for a writ of mandate with the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Ventura on Friday seeking release of all documents in the case and accusing the judge of a "penchant for secrecy."

As testimony ended Monday, Smith called Santa Barbara County Judge Barbara Beck as a rebuttal witness.

Beck, who is openly gay, testified that she had counseled Hall to treat Dykeman with more respect and not to worry so much about hiding her same-sex relationship.

After a finger-pointing exchange between Koppel-Claypool and Smith during a sidebar, the judge sustained all defense objections and sharply limited Beck's testimony.

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