CJP Admonishes Bay Area Judge for Sarcasm, Discourtesy
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance yesterday admonished a Contra Costa Superior Court judge for having improper ex parte discussions with a defendant, a lawyer, and a probation office and for making inappropriate remarks from the bench.
By a vote of 7-2, the commission imposed a public admonishment on Judge Bruce C. Mills, a member of the court since 1995. The commission found that Mills had, among other things, made “sarcastic and discourteous” remarks regarding a defendant whom the judge believed was faking an inability to speak English.
The commission explained that while it is appropriate for a judge to make inquiry if he or she believes that a defendant who is using the services of a court-appointed interpreter speaks English well enough to get along without one, Mills crossed the line when he said in open court that the defendant had engaged in “a charade,” that it was “entertaining that [defense counsel has] this opinion” that the dismissal of the interpreter was prejudicial to the defense, and that the defendant was putting on “a dog and pony show” by claiming that he did not speak English.
“Judge Mills has engaged in a pattern of making comments that are discourteous, sarcastic, demeaning and belittling to those appearing before him,” the commission wrote. “Such remarks toward a litigant or counsel are not consistent with the conduct required by canon 3B(4).”
The canon requires that judges conduct their official duties in a patient and dignified manner.
The commission also found that in 1997, Mills had improperly granted diversion after chambers discussions involving the defense lawyer, the defendant, and the probation officer—who had originally suggested that the defendant was ineligible—after the defendant’s no contest plea had been accepted and the prosecutors had left the courthouse.
Mills, the CJP found, not only violated ethical rules by engaging in the ex parte discussions, but subsequently compounded the violation by engaging in further ex parte conversations with a prosecutor after the District Attorney’s Office received a copy of the diversion order and objected.
The commission also found that Mills had improperly made statements suggesting that prosecutors failed to perform their duties by trying to persuade prosecutors who had filed a misdemeanor charge to review it with an eye toward felony prosecution, by telling clients that their lawyers were giving them bad advice out of “stupidity and arrogance” and were committing “malpractice,” and by telling a prosecutor that she was “not going to be welcome any longer in this court” if a witness was unavailable for trial and that it would be “malpractice” if she put a witness on the stand without preparing him to testify.
Commission chairman Marshall B. Grossman, a Santa Monica attorney; Orange Superior Court Judge Frederick P. Horn, Fourth District Court of Appeal Justice Judith D. McConnell, and public members Patricia Miller, Jose Miramontes, Penny Perez and Barbara Schraeger voted for a public admonishment.
Santa Clara Superior Court Judge Judge RisÎ Jones Pichon and public member Lawrence Simi voted for a private admonishment, arguing that the ex parte communications should not have been considered because they occurred several years before the other misconduct.
Mills, in accordance with commission rules, waived his right to an evidentiary hearing and appeared before the CJP in secret in order to contest the discipline. He was represented by San Francisco attorney James A. Murphy.
Copyright 2006, Metropolitan News Company