Paul Teilh, Longest-Serving Judge in County Superior Court History, Dies at 96

It could be argued that former county Judge Paul Teilh lived to work as much as he worked to live. Three years ago, in a San Jose Inside story by Laura Fishman, Teilh, 93 years old at the time, was fighting off a suggested retirement.

“I’m going to work until the coroner comes for me,” he said.

Last week, on the day after Christmas, Teilh passed away in his home. He was 96.

Known for never cutting corners and being especially demanding of his staff, Teilh is the longest-serving judge in the history of the Santa Clara County Superior Court.

“Work was his life,” said Teilh’s daughter, Diane Eichhorn. “He loved being a judge. He took it as a great honor.”

Teilh started his career in public service as a secretary for the San Francisco County clerk’s office, then taking over as Santa Clara County’s clerk in 1955. In 1966, he was elected as municipal court judge, a role he held until 1980, when he was elected to be a Superior Court judge for the county. He retired in 1986 but soon found that he missed the job.

He returned to the county as an appointment judge, where he received assignments to work a case for two months at a time. He performed that job for 24 years, with his last day coming on June 30, 2010.

Teilh was born in 1916 in San Francisco to French immigrant parents. He attended Sacred Heart High School before graduating from U.C. Berkeley, where he studied chemistry. He served in World War II and was active in the California National Guard, where he held the position of commander of the Guard during the 1965 L.A. Watts riots. He was also president of the parish council of St. John Vianney Church.

Teilh will be buried at Golden Gate National Cemetery with military honors. A service in his memory will be held at St. John Vianney Church at 9am on Monday, Jan. 7.


  1. Rest in Peace Judge Teilh. Thank you for your service to the community and to our country. You were a man of great integrity and will be missed.

  2. It must have been 1967 or 1968, and I had accompanied my best friend, Chris, to Municipal Court in downtown San Jose.  Chris had the bad fortune to have been caught speeding in his 1964 Pontiac GTO, his newly acquired “muscle car,” as it was known in its day.

    Judge Teilh was presiding that day and Chris nervously awaited his turn to plead his case.  Sitting in the “peanut gallery,” we listened to several cases and it seemed as though nearly every one of them involved cars lowered to below the minimum allowed by law.  The defendants all appealed to the Judge that they had purchased their cars in the lowered state and asked for his understanding that they had done nothing wrong. 

    In the case just prior to Chris’s, Judge Teilh, in a mild state of exasperation, exclaimed, “I sure would like to find the fellow who is lowering all of these cars!”  Those in the court roared with laughter, as Judge Teilh’s wonderfully wry sense of humor was so entertaining.

    I will always remember that day and Judge Teilh, and I most respectfully offer my deepest sympathy to his family and friends in their time of loss.

    • > Chris had the bad fortune to have been caught speeding in his 1964 Pontiac GTO, his newly acquired “muscle car,” as it was known in its day.

      On the other hand, he had the good fortune to have a 1964 Pontiac GTO.

      But then, if he had had a 1965 Pontiac GTO, he would have had even better fortune.

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