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The Contra Costa County district attorney’s office plans to use an out-of-town judge’s ruling to block Judge Bruce Van Voorhis from hearing any criminal cases. In November, Monterey County Presiding Judge Robert O’Farrell granted DA Gary Yancey’s request to disqualify Van Voorhis in a criminal case. “Van Voorhis has on numerous occasions acted and spoken in a manner that was rude, insulting and belittling to young attorneys in the district attorney’s office,” O’Farrell wrote. Although O’Farrell made his ruling on Nov. 27, due to a filing mix-up the prosecutor’s office didn’t receive a copy of it until Wednesday. The news is another blow for Van Voorhis, who awaits a decision from a state watchdog group that could remove him from the bench for misconduct. Last month the judge and his attorney made a final round of arguments before the Commission on Judicial Performance, which has alleged that Van Voorhis demeaned court staff, jurors and attorneys. Van Voorhis, who has been disciplined twice before, was also accused of making a ruling to see how an inexperienced prosecutor would “handle it.” On Thursday, a Contra Costa County veteran prosecutor said he was pleased with O’Farrell’s decision. “It means that he is disqualified in this case, and we are armed if he is ever assigned a criminal case,” said Senior Deputy DA L. Douglas Pipes, who handled the case. Van Voorhis’ attorney, James Murphy of San Francisco’s Murphy, Pearson, Bradley & Feeney, said his client believes the order “is wrong,” and added that the judge “is not against the Contra Costa County district attorney’s office.” Murphy maintains that the disqualification was political: Van Voorhis stands up to prosecutors, and the DA has a low conviction rate in the Walnut Creek courthouse where Van Voorhis usually presides, Murphy said. And, the lawyer added, the Monterey County judge’s ruling sends the wrong message. “Does this mean that judges have to lay down before the DA?” Murphy asked. For decades, the Contra Costa DA has virtually forbidden deputies from “papering” judges. But in September, a panel of special masters appointed by the CJP released a report of “findings of fact and conclusion of law,” based on a hearing that aired complaints about and praise for Van Voorhis. The report blasted Van Voorhis’ courtroom conduct and concluded that the judge committed willful misconduct several times — a finding that cleared the way for the commission to remove the judge from the bench. Van Voorhis and his attorney have asked the CJP impose a less severe punishment. If the commission takes away Van Voorhis’ gavel, it will be the first time that a judge has been removed from office solely for bad demeanor, parties knowledgeable about the case have said. After the report was made public, the DA filed a disqualification motion backed by a dozen new statements from prosecutors who complained about Van Voorhis. While the motion was being decided, Van Voorhis was assigned to hear traffic and small claims cases in Concord. Contra Costa County Presiding Judge Laurel Brady declined to comment on Thursday about O’Farrell’s ruling. In his November ruling the Monterey judge held that “a person aware of the facts might reasonably entertain a doubt that [Van Voorhis] would be able to be impartial toward the Contra Costa district attorney’s office and its deputies.” The judge also sided with Van Voorhis on a few points. O’Farrell refused to consider the panel’s report and other related documents since they “emanate from a different proceeding.” And, the judge ruled, Van Voorhis’ conduct did not constitute “actual prejudice.”

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