Santa Clara County's longest-serving judge, Paul R. Teilh, died this week at age 96.
Teilh worked for 53 years as a judge -- 20 before he retired and 33 afterward on special assignment to Santa Clara County Superior Court.
He loved the job so much he did it for free for five years after he retired, until the state began allowing retired judges to collect pensions and pay for post-retirement work.
"Paul Teilh is probably the hardest working judge we've ever had," said Presiding Judge Richard Loftus.
Teilh passed away Wednesday morning at his home in the East San Jose hills, said one of his three daughters, Diane Teilh Eichhorn, who flew in from Virginia.
In a career that started in 1966 and ended in 2009, Teilh presided over thousands of cases. Among them was the 1995 murder conviction of Mathew Musladin, which became one of very few South Bay criminal cases to ever reach the U.S. Supreme Court. Teilh had allowed the victim's family to sit in the front row of the courtroom wearing buttons bearing his photograph.
A federal appellate court found the buttons could sway the jury to prejudge Musladin's guilt. But in a victory for Teilh and the victim's family, the Supreme Court, without directly addressing the button issue, upheld his conviction.
Born in San Francisco in 1916 to French immigrant parents, Teilh endured a family tragedy when he was just a young tyke.
When he was 6 years old, he and his older brother Gabriel were crossing Bush Street on the way home from church one Sunday. A taxi bore down on the them, prompting Gabriel to shove Paul out of harm's way. Paul was fine, but Gabriel was killed, Eichhorn said.
"Daddy became the oldest child," she said.
He attended Sacred Heart High School and the University of California at Berkeley, where he majored in chemistry, and La Salle extension.
Serious as Teilh was from an early age, he wasn't all work, no play. While he was stationed in the Aleutians during World War II, he earned enough money playing poker to put a down payment on a house in San Jose, Eichhorn said.
He passed the bar in 1955 and was elected as a Municipal Court judge in 1966 and to Superior Court in 1980. Before that, he was county clerk of San Francisco and later of Santa Clara County, she said.
He also was active in the California National Guard, serving as a commander during the 1965 Watts riots in Los Angeles. He was also president of the parish council of St. John Vianney Church.
Under his influence, Eichhorn became a prosecutor in Alameda County. But she said much as her father loved law, he supported her decision to switch to nursing and her two sisters' desire to teach school.
Teilh is survived by his three daughters: Eichhorn; Sydney Smith Tallman of Fort Bragg,; and Denise Giacomini of San Jose, as well as by six grandchildren and seven great-grandchildren. His wife, Mary LaRue Teilh, died in early 2011.
Services will be held Jan. 7 at 9 a.m. at St. John Vianney Church in San Jose. He will be buried at 11 a.m. with military honors at Golden Gate National Cemetery in San Bruno.