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Charged For Knowingly Passing HIV

A former city health commissioner who allegedly lied to an ex-boyfriend about his HIV status is the first person charged under a state law against intentionally exposing another person to the virus, prosecutors said.

Ronald Gene Hill, 46, was arrested in Grass Valley, 50 miles northeast of Sacramento, following his indictment by a grand jury last week, said Mark MacNamara, spokesman for the San Francisco district attorney's office.

Hill was being held in the Grass Valley jail late Wednesday on $100,000 bail, said a jail spokeswoman, adding that she was unsure whether he had an attorney. Hill was scheduled to be arraigned in San Francisco Friday, MacNamara said.

It's the first arrest under a 1998 state law making it a crime to knowingly and intentionally expose another person to the virus that causes AIDS.

"Because this is the first case to be tried of its kind, it presents many difficulties, but the evidence to the grand jury was compelling enough to indict him," MacNamara said.

In March 2002, a San Francisco judge imposed a $5 million default judgment against Hill — $2.5 million in damages and $2.5 million in punitive damages — to be awarded to Hill's former lover, Thomas Lister.

Baron Drexel, the lawyer who represented Lister in his civil suit, said Wednesday that prosecutors originally were unwilling to bring criminal charges against Hill, who was arrested Tuesday.

"People lie to each other," Drexel said. "But when it comes to an issue like this, it's not justifiable at any level."

Drexel said Lister had been dating the former health commissioner for about five months and the couple were taking an Alaskan cruise together in July 2000 when he discovered medical records indicating Hill was taking medication for HIV.

The two earlier had discussed their negative HIV status and both agreed to get tested before having sex, Drexel said. Hill told Lister he tested negative.

On the cruise, Lister suffered chills and fever. One of the ship's medical staff asked both men whether they had been tested for HIV. Both said they were negative.

"He went through Hill's things," Drexel said. "Maybe he got suspicious."

After the trip, Lister tested positive, Drexel said. He sued in January 2001.

"I think it took him a while to compute that this guy had lied to him in such a fundamental way," Drexel said, adding that eight months ago, the last time he talked to Lister, he was still healthy and wasn't taking anti-HIV medication.

Hill, who served on the commission from 1997 to 2000, disappeared during the civil trial and Lister never received any money, Drexel said.

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