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Embattled Alameda County Judge D. Ronald Hyde gave “completely inconsistent and irreconcilable” explanations for why he abused his judicial powers, according to a report released Friday by a panel of special masters. Although the three judges found Hyde had committed “willful misconduct” — the harshest possible finding — it’s unclear what punishment he will face. Earlier, the judge announced that he would retire June 2, which meant, at worst, the Commission on Judicial Performance could bar Hyde from sitting on assignment. However, Hyde’s lawyer said Friday that a bureaucratic mix-up is forcing Hyde to stay on the job until the fall. If Hyde is still on the bench when the commission makes its ruling, it could remove the longtime Pleasanton judge, said James Murphy of San Francisco’s Murphy, Pearson, Bradley & Feeney. The commission will make its ruling on Hyde after it hears a final round of oral arguments, possibly in August. Alameda County Supervising Judge Allan Hymer said Hyde was expected to retire in October. Hyde’s lawyer added that he had hoped the special masters would show leniency since Hyde admitted that he was wrong when he told another judge to “back me up” on a bail ruling after Hyde had been bounced from the case. “The judge had conceded that he did something wrong,” Murphy said. Hyde also testified that he was presiding over a high-volume calendar and taking gout medication. In its report, the panel questioned Hyde’s excuses. In a footnote, the special masters stopped just short of calling Hyde a liar for testifying that he didn’t recall what happened after he asked Judge Hugh Walker to back up his ruling. “It is difficult to reconcile Judge Hyde’s excellent recall about the bail enhancement with his memory lapse about the phone call by an angry Judge Walker and his emotional apology to [the defense attorney],” wrote Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Joseph Biafore, one of the three judges on the panel. “We hasten to add that Judge Hyde had been under investigation . . . . at the time,” Biafore wrote, adding that Hyde knew his gavel was on the line. Biafore was joined by Sacramento County Superior Court Judge Talmadge Jones and Shasta County Superior Court Judge Bradley Boeckman. In the 54-page report, the special masters sifted through testimony from a March hearing, where Hyde’s accusers spoke and where community members said Hyde’s civic selflessness had changed lives. Hyde and his lawyer argued that vengeful court clerks fed the CJP information that led to the probe and that the commission misinterpreted both the relaxed Pleasanton courthouse culture and Hyde’s strong community ties. Although the special masters included a three-page list of good deeds that the commission could view as mitigating factors, the panel of judges argued that Hyde should have known better. They repeatedly drew parallels between the current allegations and similar conduct that prompted a 1996 public censure, a private admonishment in 1997 and an advisory letter in 1998. “We recognize that there can be some degree of informality when dealing with the public in a smaller courthouse such as Pleasanton,” the masters wrote. “However, Judge Hyde is an experienced judge and yet he does not recognize the impropriety of acting as an advocate for someone who was a victim/witness in a case over which he was presiding.” Of the seven counts of misconduct, the judges found two constituted both “willful” and “prejudicial” misconduct. The other four counts were deemed merely “prejudicial” misconduct. Those accusations included assigning the pro tem who heard his daughter’s small-claims court case, getting a fee waiver for a victim in a case before him, ending a lawyer friend’s daughter’s probation and telling a sexually explicit story at a gathering. One incident was “improper action.” Judge Hyde’s recent return to the bench was unexpected. In March — in the midst of the misconduct probe — Hyde told the presiding judge that he planned to retire in June. Hyde’s attorney stressed that “for years” his client had planned to retire around his 60th birthday, June 3, to spend time with his wife. However, in recent weeks Hyde apparently learned that he needed to stay on the bench for his wife to qualify for certain benefits. For the past few weeks, Hyde has been subbing in several courtrooms at the Wiley W. Manuel Courthouse in Oakland, according to Supervising Judge Hymer. Since Judge Alice Vilardi had already been assigned to replace Hyde at the Pleasanton courthouse, it was easier to have Hyde help out in Oakland rather than return to Pleasanton, Hymer explained. Hyde is the second East Bay judge to face removal by the commission this year. In February, the commission voted to remove Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Bruce Van Voorhis from the bench for, among other things, demeaning jurors, court staff and attorneys. Van Voorhis, who had been the subject of earlier misconduct probes, has filed a petition for review with the California Supreme Court. Murphy said he plans to file objections to portions of the special masters report. Then, he and attorneys for the Commission on Judicial Performance will appear for a final round of oral arguments before the 11-member commission votes on Hyde’s case.

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