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A no-nonsense Commission on Judicial Performance appears to be sending a clear message to judges: You can’t be a toxic person and remain on the bench. In recent cases, the CJP has investigated the behavior of judges who are apparently so caught up in the trappings of power that they’ve abandoned the restraints of integrity. All were accused of petty acts of personal indiscretion, but the CJP is showing judges that they can’t do whatever they feel like anymore — and that’s a very good thing. Just this week, the CJP issued a public censure to former Fresno Municipal Court Judge Vincent McGraw and barred him from receiving assignments. McGraw was accused of making false statements during his re-election campaign, threatening to bring legal action to keep information about himself from being published, and engaging in improper campaign activities at the courthouse. The CJP is currently considering its decision on D. Ronald Hyde, a 59-year-old Pleasanton judge who is accused of various offenses that include giving special treatment to acquaintances, having a clerk pull motor vehicle records for a motorist who cut him off, and asking another judge to back him up on a ruling. And they’re not the only ones incurring the CJP’s wrath. In August of last year, San Joaquin County Superior Court Judge Michael Platt was removed after an investigation into alleged ticket fixing, attempting to influence other jurists, and improperly issuing a stay in a detainer proceeding. The commission in 2001 removed Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Patrick Couwenberg for offenses that included misrepresenting his educational and military background. In 2002 , the CJP censured two judges in Riverside, one in Fresno, and one in Los Angeles. A public admonishment went to Sacramento Superior Court Judge Peter McBrien for illegally cutting down trees to improve the view from his house. Perhaps the most striking example of the CJP’s aggressive new stance on bad behavior came in February when Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Bruce Van Voorhis became the first judge in California to lose his gavel over his demeanor alone. Van Voorhis’ attorney, James Murphy of Murphy, Pearson, Bradley & Feeney, tried to downplay the judge’s bad reputation on the bench. “So he is perceived as a jerk,” Murphy said. “Is he subject to removal because he is perceived as a jerk?” Well, yes. Writing for the majority in a 52-page opinion, Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Rise Jones Pichon said the commission could not allow Van Voorhis to stay on the bench and pointed out that the 54-year-old judge’s problems went far beyond simply being impolite: “It includes such ‘demeanor’ misconduct as loss of judicial temperament, abuse of authority and embroilment.” But Van Voorhis “didn’t steal any money,” his attorney pointed out. “He didn’t fix tickets.” No. He berated people in his courtroom. He used his power unjustly. He abandoned integrity and judicial temperament. It looks like time is running out for shady, arrogant judges who slide over the boundaries of illegal activity — or who are just downright awful human beings. Judges aren’t demigods; they’re public servants who are accorded, for the most part, a great deal of respect from the public. The CJP is making sure they earn it.

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