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Alameda County Judge D. Ronald Hyde did not use his position to help his daughter and his friends in court, according to papers his attorney filed with the Commission on Judicial Performance that were made public Monday. In June, the state watchdog agency wrote that the Pleasanton judge brought “the judicial office into disrepute” by abusing his post. Besides helping his daughter, the six-count “notice of formal proceedings” alleged that Hyde made a sexual comment off the bench to court employees. At the time, Hyde became the second East Bay judge in six months to come under scrutiny. In December the Commission on Judicial Performance made public charges against Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Bruce Van Voorhis. In papers filed on July 31, Hyde’s attorney downplayed the fact that his daughter’s small claims case was assigned to a judge <i>pro tem</i> who belongs to Hyde’s Rotary Club. The <i>pro tem</i>, attorney John Harding, ruled in Suzanne Hyde’s favor. “John Harding is an experienced and respected attorney who is well qualified to preside over small claims matters,” wrote James Murphy of San Francisco’s Murphy, Pearson, Bradley & Feeney. Murphy could not be reached for comment on Monday. Hyde’s daughter filed suit because her car was involved in a parking lot accident with another car in Pleasanton. The response also disclosed that Hyde filed the small claims case on behalf of his daughter — something that was not mentioned in the original commission complaint. The judge didn’t have court personnel serve the complaint, but rather used a process server, Murphy said in the written response. The case ended up on Judge Hyde’s night court calendar because the date was convenient for the parties involved. And the judge neglected to assign a substitute until the day the case was heard because “he became busy and forgot about the matter, totally,” Murphy wrote. Murphy also stressed that Harding does not have a business relationship with Hyde or his daughter. The brief did not mention the Rotary connection. In another case, the commission alleged that Hyde ended probation for Karissa Kernan, the daughter of lawyer and school board president Patrick Kernan, who was also a friend of Hyde’s family. Karissa Kernan called Hyde and asked to have her probation terminated for “alcohol-related reckless driving” so she could enter the military. She later had the case added to Hyde’s calendar, and the request was granted, the complaint said. In his response, Hyde’s lawyer said that Kernan’s father and Hyde are merely acquaintances. “Judge Hyde denies having any type of social relationship with Mr. Kernan and does not consider Mr. Kernan to be a close friend,” Murphy wrote. The judge knows Kernan through their mutual involvement in community groups like the ValleyCare Foundation Board and the California Wine Auction. In the response, Hyde admits that Kernan called but he told her he could not discuss the matter and that she should go to the courthouse and get her case added to the calendar. It was a coincidence that he ended up hearing the case. Hyde terminated Kernan’s probation because she had done everything that she was required to and the prosecutor had no objections to early termination of probation, Murphy wrote. The judge also offered explanations for accusations that he told a sexual story to court employees and asked a clerk to look up Department of Motor Vehicle records about a driver who cut him off on the road. When Hyde told the racy story, he was exchanging anecdotes with other court workers about pranks and other strange things that have happened at the Pleasanton courthouse, his response said. Hyde told a story about a former court employee who had oral sex with another man in the parking lot, and Murphy wrote that the story was not meant to be offensive or malicious. In the other incident, Hyde wanted information about the driver because he thought that the person might be a danger to others on the road, his lawyer argued. Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Joseph Biafore Jr. will preside over the panel of special masters, which will also include judges from Shasta and Sacramento counties, said CJP Chief Counsel Victoria Henley. Hyde was appointed to the municipal court bench in 1982 and elevated after unification. He was censured in 1996 for several misdeeds, most notably applying for a federal judicial post and having a court employee type up the application and then sending the package to San Francisco with a court employee in a county vehicle. Murphy also represents Van Voorhis, a Walnut Creek judge who could lose his judicial post for alleged misconduct. Van Voorhis made harsh, belittling comments to court staff, attorneys and jurors, the commission alleges. In June the judge testified in his own defense before a panel of special masters at a rare hearing. The special masters panel is scheduled to make their report to the commission on Sept. 9. The commission will then use that report to decide what, if any, punishment Van Voorhis will face.

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