I filed formal ethics complaint of prejudice and a motion for a judge to remove themselves from the case after a pattern of bias rulings from the bench. The judge responded with denial of the motion and rewarded opposing council attorney fees due before the case goes to hearing, with a threat of contempt if I do not pay. I have no money left after a lengthy divorce.
Are the judges actions legal and what happens if I'm found in contempt? What other options do I have?
It is absolutely impossible from the limited facts you have provided to know if a higher court would approve of this judge's action if some sort of appeal were made.
However, as a general rule judges do have the power to award attorneys fees to a party who wins a ruling if the judge feels that one of the parties should never have made an issue out of something in the first place. It is not surprising that the judge feels that your charge of bias was improper. Accusing a judge of being biased or prejudiced is an insult to a judge so it is not surprising that the judge did not think your motion was justified.
Occasionally attorneys take on a judge by accusing the judge of bias and hoping that an appeals court or a judicial ethics committee will accept their argument. However, taking on a judge in the middle of a case is a supremely difficult task best left to experienced attorneys with deep pockets who can afford the financial penalties if they lose and who pick their fights very carefully. In the overwhelming majority of cases attorneys advance their clients' interests by displaying courtesy to the judge while remembering that they can always appeal the case to a higher court if they think they can demonstrate the judge was wrong in ruling against their client.
You are in tough spot. If you can scrape the money together I advise you to hire a local attorney for some advice since the punishment for being found in contempt of court could be jail time. Judges have the power to find people in contempt and order them into custody immediately without a trial or a jury. If you cannot come up with money for an attorney you may qualify for some sort of legal aid. You definitely need to get some advice from a local lawyer.