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Alameda County Judge D. Ronald Hyde’s civic selflessness has brought honor to the bench, and the misconduct case currently being heard against him is built on personal animosity from vengeful court clerks, the judge’s defense attorney said Thursday. James Murphy, of San Francisco’s Murphy, Pearson, Bradley & Feeney, said the judge “has a bull’s-eye on his back when he is in the clerk’s department,” and added that, in fact, Hyde’s passion for the community and his extensive volunteer work have made him a role model. A panel of three special masters heard the final portion of defense testimony Thursday, along with closing arguments by both sides. The panel will report its findings to the Commission on Judicial Performance, which will determine what, if any, punishment the judge will face. He could be removed from the bench if the CJP feels the misconduct was severe. Charges against the judge include that he used his position to help people he knew facing charges in court, including his eldest daughter and the child of a prominent Pleasanton attorney. He is also accused of other misconduct, including looking up DMV records of a motorist who cut him off on the freeway and asking another judge to back him up on a bail ruling after Hyde had been bounced from the case. But Murphy, in his closing argument, focused on the softer side of the judge. He told the panel about one defendant who turned his life around with Hyde’s help, and the fact that Hyde also raised the son of a public defender, Harriet Verbin, after she died of cancer several years ago. During a court break, Hyde said the attorney’s child is 23 and “calls me dad now.” Murphy also suggested that the judge’s passion for the community and for public safety prompted many of the actions in the CJP complaint. For example, Hyde is accused of personally helping a spousal abuse victim — who was a party in a case he was hearing — get a fee waiver for her divorce. And Hyde regrets asking Judge Hugh Walker to back him up, Murphy said. “Judge Hyde apologizes to this tribunal. It has not happened again.” Earlier in the day, Murphy called to the stand a court clerk who had helped the commission compile information that led to both the current probe and to a 1996 disciplinary action against the judge. Clerk Elizabeth Duarte’s testimony revealed open hostility between the court staff who have assisted the commission and Hyde. Murphy’s questions suggested that Duarte was always looking for any information that would lead to trouble with the CJP for Hyde, who had criticized the competency of criminal division clerks, according to earlier testimony. During cross-examination, commission counsel Andrew Blum suggested that Hyde may have spread rumors that Duarte was Hyde’s “enemy” and was a “co-conspirator.” In March 1998, Duarte asked Judge Walker to intervene, and the alleged rumors stopped, the clerk testified. The defense also called Pleasanton attorney Patrick Kernan, a longtime friend of Hyde whose daughter Karissa testified earlier this week that her father suggested she call Hyde for help to end her probation early. On Thursday, the Hoge, Fenton, Jones & Appel partner said he didn’t tell his daughter to call Hyde. “I won’t say she’s a black sheep, but she is a little different from our other kids,” said the lawyer, who sits on Pleasanton’s school board. He later added that his daughter suffers from Attention Deficit Disorder and was “mistaken” about the incident. Throughout the hearing the special masters grilled both sides. All three judges seemed concerned that Hyde became personally involved in the domestic violence victim’s fee issue even though her husband’s criminal case was before him. What would the woman’s husband have thought if he had walked into the clerk’s office and had seen Hyde discussing the case?, asked Sacramento Superior Court Judge Talmadge Jones. Murphy downplayed that incident, noting that judges frequently interact with the public in the hallways. Earlier, Shasta County Superior Court Judge Bradley Boeckman wondered if Kernan, the lawyer’s daughter, actually asked to be put on Hyde’s calendar or if the clerk assigned the case there. Commission on Judicial Performance attorney Jack Coyle said it didn’t matter who made the call because Hyde should have disqualified himself from the case. During his closing argument, Coyle told the panel that Hyde has repeatedly abused his power and had “appearance problems” that make him look biased. “You can’t get more of an obvious conflict than your daughter’s case,” Coyle said, referring to a charge against the judge that he chose the pro tem who heard his daughter’s small claims case. And, Coyle argued, Hyde is a repeat offender. The judge was publicly scolded in 1996 for a series of misdeeds that are similar to the current accusations. The CJP privately admonished Hyde in 1997 for reducing the jail time of a defendant who violated probation. Hyde intervened in that case because a friend, who was the defendant’s boss, asked Hyde for help. Those priors motivated Hyde to feign memory loss about the incident in which he allegedly asked Walker to back him up, Coyle said. “He had to recognize [in light of the new probe and his past discipline] that this is career-ending misconduct,” Coyle argued. Sixty days after the transcript of the hearing is prepared, the special masters will make a report to the CJP.

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