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Judge Found Not Guilty on Felony Count

A mistrial is declared on a second serious charge, but the Lompoc jurist is convicted of drunk driving after a dispute with her partner.

August 29, 2003|William Overend | Times Staff Writer

SANTA BARBARA — A jury deciding the fate of a Superior Court judge accused on six criminal counts in a domestic abuse case voted to acquit the judge Thursday on the most serious felony charge, but found her guilty of two drunk driving counts.

Although the jury reached verdicts on five of the six charges faced by Santa Barbara County Judge Diana R. Hall, jurors deadlocked 11 to 1 on a felony charge that she disabled a telephone to block a 911 call Dec. 21 during an alleged drunken argument with her domestic partner.

Because of the deadlock, Judge Carol Koppel-Claypool declared a mistrial on that count and set a hearing date of Sept. 19 for motions on whether to try Hall on the telephone charge a second time as a felony or to reduce it to a misdemeanor. The 11 to 1 vote was in favor of a guilty verdict.

Hall, 53, former presiding criminal judge in the north Santa Barbara County city of Lompoc, faces automatic removal from the bench if convicted of any felony. She could remain on the bench if the telephone charge is reduced to a misdemeanor.

Hall was acquitted on a felony count of threatening a witness by force, with an enhanced allegation that she had used a gun to do so. Jurors said outside the courtroom Thursday that the evidence had not justified that charge.

"It was very poor evidence, but that's all we had to go on," said one juror, who would not disclose his name, referring to the testimony of Hall's roommate. "The main thing for me was discrepancies in Deidra Dykeman's testimony and that she kept seeing the gun in different places."

During the trial, defense lawyer Jack Earley did not contest the two drunk driving charges, and Hall testified that driving her car away from her home that night after arguing with Dykeman had been a mistake that "I will regret the rest of my life."

Hall was found guilty of driving under the influence and driving with a blood-alcohol level of more than 0.08%, the legal limit. Her blood-alcohol level was 0.18%. Although the law provides a maximum jail term of six months on those two overlapping charges on first offense, the typical sentence is a $1,300 fine, attendance at a drunk driving school, three days of jail time or community service and probation.

Hall denied almost all of Dykeman's allegations that she had threatened to shoot one of their dogs, pulled Dykeman's hair, hit her and walked around the house with a loaded .38-caliber revolver on the night of the argument. The jury took her word over Dykeman's in acquitting her of misdemeanor charges of domestic battery and brandishing a gun.

Hall did concede in testimony that she had thrown a cordless telephone on the floor in anger, but her lawyer argued that there had been other phones in the house that Dykeman could have used to call sheriff's deputies. Dykeman testified that she had thrown the phone twice, until it broke into three pieces.

Until the Sept. 19 hearing, Koppel-Claypool ruled, neither Earley nor Assistant Dist. Atty. Kimberly Smith may talk about the case to the public or indicate in any way whether they are pleased or displeased with the overall verdicts. She rejected a request by The Times to lift the gag order or modify it in view of the fact that jurors were talking outside the courthouse.

One juror who spoke to reporters was Earl Brown, 75, the holdout voter on the telephone charge. "It looked like the penalty was too much," he said.

The maximum penalty for blocking a person from using a telephone is three years in prison, Smith later explained. But jurors are instructed to ignore such issues in making their decisions.

When the first verdicts were announced, Hall initially hugged her sister, Sheila Arnold, who had sat behind her throughout the trial with Nancy Canter, the wife of Santa Barbara County Judge Zel Canter. When the mistrial was declared, however, the mood changed. Barred from making any comment, Hall left the building with Early, facing the prospect of starting the case all over again before a new jury this fall.

The jury began deliberations late Tuesday afternoon after a seven-day trial in which the defense portrayed Dykeman as a vengeful liar bent on destroying Hall's career by publicly "outing" their sexual relationship.

Hall testified in the case that Dykeman had repeatedly threatened to make 911 calls during arguments, knowing that the judge would back down rather than have the relationship disclosed.

Earley described Dykeman as a woman who was keeping Hall a prisoner in their relationship, primarily to maintain her lifestyle. The two had bought a house together in the Santa Ynez Valley with more than an acre of land. Dykeman, who loved gardening, spent almost all her spare time working in the yard, Hall testified.

Removal of a judge from office is extremely rare in California. Last year, the California Commission on Judicial Performance removed one judge for improperly dismissing traffic tickets for a man who had loaned him $3,500. Since 1960, 16 other judges have been removed for serious malfeasance in office, records show.

Koppel-Claypool, 64, is a retired municipal court judge from Victorville who is now assigned to help overloaded courts.

Early in the case, Koppel-Claypool established a pattern of tight secrecy in pretrial proceedings. After protests from The Times, she released some documents. But she has redacted portions of many of the documents and refused to release others.

The Times has asked the 2nd District Court of Appeal in Ventura to order her to release all documents in the case.

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