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The California Supreme Court extinguished an ousted Contra Costa County judge’s last hope to return to the bench when it declined to take up his appeal on Wednesday. The court’s unanimous decision cements the fate of 54-year-old Walnut Creek Judge Bruce Van Voorhis, a jurist who was repeatedly disciplined by the Commission on Judicial Performance for verbally attacking jurors, court staff and attorneys. This year, Van Voorhis became the first judge in the state to be removed from office for demeanor alone. Van Voorhis was not available for comment Wednesday afternoon. His attorney, Murphy, Pearson, Bradley & Feeney partner James Murphy, seemed stunned by the ruling. He said he had not talked to his client about it yet. “I honestly believed that the Supreme Court was going to accept the petition for review,” the San Francisco attorney said. In court papers, Murphy had argued that the CJP decision violated his client’s due process rights because the watchdog broke its own rules when it voted for removal. The commission has since changed the rules, which it argued were immaterial. Murphy and other judicial ethics experts had speculated that the justices would use the case to clarify ethical boundaries. “I do think there is a need to clarify what type of demeanor is acceptable demeanor � and what type of demeanor will get you kicked off the bench,” Murphy said, adding that the court took “an easy way out.” Contra Costa County’s district attorney, whose office has locked horns with Van Voorhis in recent years, was “gratified” by the court action. “I think that it’s extremely unfortunate that it came to this,” said DA Bob Kochly, noting that Van Voorhis had plenty of chances to clean up his act early in his career. Van Voorhis had been under fire since December 2001. That’s when the commission announced that it would hold hearings into complaints that he used his gavel to bully people who worked and appeared in his courtroom. The judge was also accused of telling an Ecuadorian lawyer to get rid of his accent and of making a ruling to see how a rookie prosecutor would “handle it.” Van Voorhis, a career prosecutor who was elected to the bench in 1986, apologized for his behavior and stressed that he was a hard-working judge who was often misunderstood. “I can look back and see how I got to this point in my career,” Van Voorhis told three judges who heard testimony about the allegations in 2002. “I may have gotten into a rut. I think I may show my emotions the longer I stay on the bench,” Van Voorhis said. Criminal defense attorneys who testified on Van Voorhis’ behalf claimed that the DA targeted Van Voorhis because he wasn’t afraid to rule against prosecutors. In fact, after the CJP investigation became public, now-retired DA Gary Yancey successfully argued that Van Voorhis should be barred from hearing criminal cases. Kochly, Yancey’s successor, says his office pursued the challenge because Van Voorhis liked to humiliate female prosecutors. The hearings also revealed that Van Voorhis was a multiple offender. He was publicly reproved in 1992 and privately disciplined in 1994 for many of the same problems, commission attorney Jack Coyle argued. Van Voorhis goes after inexperienced and weak attorneys “like a shark with blood in the water until they give up,” Coyle told the three special masters who heard evidence in the case. “He is violating ethical rules all over the place,” Coyle said. “This is atrocious behavior by a judicial officer.” In September 2002, the panel determined that the judge had committed willful misconduct, a finding that cleared the way for Van Voorhis to be removed from the bench. The commission agreed and removed him from office in February. Since that decision, Van Voorhis has been under suspension with pay, said Victoria Henley, the director and chief counsel for the commission. Now that the Supreme Court has denied Van Voorhis’ petition for review, he will no longer collect a salary, she said. “I don’t know what Bruce’s plans are,” Murphy said.

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