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The names on James Murphy’s client list are usually carefully guarded secrets. However, rare public hearings involving a few of those clients — judges accused of misconduct — have thrust Murphy’s practice into the spotlight lately. Two months ago the Murphy, Pearson, Bradley & Feeney partner asked the California Supreme Court to review the Commission on Judicial Performance’s decision to take away Contra Costa County Judge Bruce Van Voorhis’ gavel — the first ever removal solely for bad temperament. At the end of the month Murphy will argue before the commission in defense of Pleasanton Judge D. Ronald Hyde, another jurist who may lose his robe. And Murphy also represents a Placer County judge who was blasted for telling jurors to hide racial bias and a Yuba County judge accused of giving friends and family special treatment. Judicial misconduct represents only about 20 percent of Murphy’s San Francisco-based practice. But for his clients, it’s extremely important work. Even rumors of secret discipline can torpedo a judge’s career, Murphy and other lawyers say. “I think that a lot of lawyers see malpractice suits as a cost of doing business,” Murphy says. “For most judges, [reaching the judiciary] is an accomplishment. They don’t want a black mark.” Murphy is one of six attorneys regularly called on by the California judiciary’s insurer to handle judicial misconduct defense. The work springs from his nearly 30 years doing legal malpractice. Murphy’s 40-attorney firm specializes in handling a broad range of professional liability. Murphy’s first judicial cases were former attorney clients. Now, Murphy says, he has 15 current judicial clients and has represented more than 40 judges over the past eight years. “It’s intriguing,” Murphy said, asserting that courthouse politics are often simmering beneath the surface of the Commission on Judicial Performance probes. “It’s easy to see where a judge would be culpable when he accepts a bribe. � But with demeanor misconduct and other types of misconduct, it’s not as clear.” ‘SCRAPPY’ LAWYER Beverly Hills lawyer Anthony Glassman remembers going up against Murphy in a 1999 case stemming from Sharon Stone’s unauthorized biography, “Naked Instinct.” Glassman represented Stone’s former law firm in a $36 million defamation suit against the publisher. Glassman’s clients disputed a gossipy quote about Stone’s romantic escapades that was allegedly made by a firm attorney and which prompted Stone to drop the firm. Murphy represented the publisher, and the jury ruled in its favor. “Jim thought he would lose the case,” said the Glassman, Browning & Saltsman name partner, noting that Murphy’s clients weren’t sympathetic witnesses. However, Murphy played up the fact that the lawyer didn’t do much to intervene once he learned the quote was in the book. Murphy peppered his court presentation with jokes, which probably lessened the jury’s desire to go for a punitive verdict, Glassman recalled. “He has a marvelous sense of humor that he uses to his advantage,” he said. While Murphy’s trial scorecard is public, the secrecy surrounding judicial discipline makes it difficult to weigh his record against the Commission on Judicial Performance. Murphy lost two recent high-profile cases: Van Voorhis was removed from the bench in February, and a report by three special masters concluded Pleasanton’s Judge Hyde committed “willful misconduct.” That finding raises the possibility that Hyde will lose his job, too. One of the three special masters who heard Van Voorhis’ case called Murphy a “scrappy” litigator. “Every question he asked was for a reason,” said Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Thomas Hollenhorst, who recalled that Murphy methodically questioned CJP witnesses. “He leaves no stone unturned.” While Murphy calls the Van Voorhis case an “uphill battle,” he has argued to the state Supreme Court that the CJP trampled Van Voorhis’ due process rights. The state watchdog violated an obscure rule that required commission members to attend Van Voorhis’ evidentiary hearing, Murphy argues. In court papers, the commission responded that the rule was kept on the books by mistake. Another attorney called Murphy’s argument “innovative.” “That is the first time that I had ever heard that” argument made, said Peter Gubbins, a Bolinas attorney who worked for the commission for 13 years before he began doing judicial defense work. REPUTATIONS ON THE LINE Although judges occasionally choose an outside lawyer, six panel attorneys defend most CJP cases. In addition to Murphy and Gubbins, they are Joseph McMonigle of Long & Levit in San Francisco, Edith Matthai of Los Angeles’ Robie & Matthai, Long Beach attorney Edward George Jr., and Reginald Vitek, name partner in San Diego’s Seltzer Caplan McMahon Vitek. Insurer CNA Corp. maintains the panel, according to Mark Jacobson, an ethics attorney with the Administrative Office of the Courts who monitors the program. Judicial ethics cases are much different than other legal work, panel attorneys say. Unlike the court system, the prosecution and judicial roles are essentially shared by one organization �� the Commission on Judicial Performance. The cases often require attorneys to become knowledgeable about legal nuances in the accused judge’s rulings. If the misconduct case is aired in a trial-like “formal proceeding,” the evidence is weighed by three judges �� not a jury. Murphy called his relationships with judge clients “short-lived marriages.” While judge clients need hand-holding, they are able to contribute crucial information to aid their own defense, he said. Gubbins said accused judges are painfully aware that their reputations are on the line. If a judge is considered for an appellate, state Supreme Court or federal seat, CJP discipline is disclosed to the governor or the president. Whispers of an investigation �� even if the probe found nothing �� could surface during a re-election campaign. Meanwhile, Murphy continues to juggle his civil work while he prepares his next steps in the CJP cases. On Aug. 27 he will make a final round of oral arguments in defense of Judge Hyde. The state Supreme Court has not yet decided whether it will grant review of Van Voorhis’ case. Nor has the commission set a date for Yuba County Judge David Wasilenko’s misconduct hearing. The commission’s director and chief counsel, Victoria Henley, was not available, and the commission attorney who tried the Hyde and Van Voorhis cases did not return calls for comment. While Murphy called CJP “good people to work with,” he criticized the watchdog for targeting small-town judges. “They are trying to set a statewide standard” for ethics, Murphy said, but no two counties are alike. While a Los Angeles County judge may know a few lawyers and a few litigants, judges like Wasilenko know “half the litigants and all of the lawyers.”

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