Wednesday, October 23, 2002
CJP Sets Appearance for Judge With What Panel Calls ‘Serious Problem’
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance said yesterday it had set an appearance for a Northern California judge with what a panel said was “a serious problem with judicial temperament and self-control.”
Contra Costa Superior Court Judge Bruce Van Voorhis is to appear Dec. 4 before the 11-member commission, which can admonish or censure him or remove him from the bench.
Van Voorhis insulted lawyers, staff members and jurors in open court, the special masters appointed by the state Supreme Court—Justice Thomas E. Hollenhorst of the Fourth District Court of Appeal, Div. Two; Justice Kenneth R. Yegan of this district’s Court of Appeal, Div. Six; and San Diego Superior Judge Roy B. Cazares—found last month.
Yesterday’s announcement comes five days after the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office announced that it will file affidavits of prejudice in all cases assigned to the judge, apparently the first time in the county’s history that “blanket papering” has been used.
Van Voorhis is set to appear before the commission at 1:30 p.m. in Courtroom Four of the Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals, located at 95 Seventh Street in San Francisco. The appearance will be open to the public, and is likely to be followed by closed-door deliberations on the judge’s fate.
Van Voorhis engaged in willful misconduct and brought his court into disrepute by, among other things, suggesting that an Ecuadorian-born deputy public defender “lose that accent” and telling a rookie prosecutor after a trial that he had intentionally excluded admissible evidence in order to see how she would handle it, the masters found.
Van Voorhis was publicly reproved by the commission in 1992 for similar offenses but made assurances of reform after consenting to his reproval for engaging in unauthorized ex parte communications, failing to exhibit patience and courtesy and improperly predicting the outcome of a criminal case.
In the current proceedings, Van Voorhis admitted making many of the remarks attributed to him, but maintained that his comments were meant to be helpful, not insulting. He testified at his June hearing that he felt he was a good judge, although he regretted much of the harsh language he had used in his dealings with lawyers and staff.
In addition to papering the judge in six cases last week, prosecutors filed a challenge for cause in another case in which they called Van Voorhis a “judicial bully who targets our young women prosecutors because he perceives that they are the most vulnerable to such high-handed and arbitrary exercises of judicial power.”
Van Voorhis’ attorney, Jim Murphy of San Francisco, claimed the actions were politically motivated. The office’s second-in-command, Bob Kochly, is running for district attorney and wants to deflect criticism that it does not hire enough female attorneys, Murphy told the Contra Costa Times last week.
The commission is made up of three judges, two lawyers, and six public members. The panel is chaired by Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Rise Jones Pichon.
Copyright 2002, Metropolitan News Company