Tuesday, November 6, 2012
Commission Charges Bay Area Judge With Interfering in Son’s Case
By KENNETH OFGANG, Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance has charged a Contra Costa Superior Court judge with interfering in a case involving the judge’s son.
In a notice of formal proceedings, made public yesterday, the commission said Judge Bruce C. Mills has been accused of willful misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, and improper action, charges that could result in his removal from the bench.
The allegations stem from the issuance of a citation for possession of tobacco to Mills’ minor son in October 2010. The commission explained in the notice that the case was assigned to Commissioner Joel Golub, and Mills’ son appeared before Golub in March of last year, pled guilty to an infraction, and ordered him to do 20 hours of volunteer work.
Both Golub and Mills sit in Walnut Creek. The judge’s son was enrolled in a residential treatment program and did not complete the volunteer work, the commission said, and was ordered to appear before Golub in October of last year.
Conversation With Clerk
The commission accused Mills of initiating a conversation with Golub’s clerk, in which the judge allegedly asked the clerk to call his son’s case early so that the son’s attorney would not have to wait.
“You told the clerk you wanted your son to get credit for the time spent in the program, and showed her documents reflecting payments made to the program provider,” the commission said in the notice. “The clerk told you or confirmed to you that Commissioner Golub was absent and that the calendar was being handled by a judge pro tern.”
The judge, the CJP alleged, subsequently told the clerk that the attorney was unable to appear, and that he would be appearing instead.
The commission further alleged:
“The clerk either knew that you had a 1:30 p.m. calendar or asked if you did, and raised the idea that you could possibly speak to the judge pro tem before the afternoon calendar...was called. You indicated that you would like to do so.
“You then spoke to the judge pro tem in her chambers about your son’s case, off the record, before she called the afternoon calendar. You told the judge pro tem that your son was in a program out of state and that you wanted him to receive credit toward the volunteer work requirement for being in the residential program. After questioning you about the program, the judge pro tem agreed to grant your request. No proceedings were conducted in open court on your son’s case.”
Canons of Ethics
By that conduct, the commission alleged, Mills violated canons of ethics requiring that judges uphold the integrity of the judiciary; avoid impropriety and promote public confidence; refrain from using the prestige of the judiciary to advance private interests; and avoid ex parte communications, other than in specified situations.
The judge’s formal response to the charges is due Nov. 20, the commission said. Mills’ attorney, James A. Murphy of San Francisco, could not be reached for comment.
Mills, a 1984 graduate of Lewis and Clark Law School in Oregon, practiced at a Walnut Creek firm until 1986, and was a deputy district attorney for Contra Costa County from 1987 until 1995, when he was appointed to the Walnut Creek-Danville Municipal Court by then-Gov. Pete Wilson. He became a Contra Costa Superior Court judge through unification in 1998.
He was publicly admonished by the commission in 2006 for having improper ex parte discussions with a defendant, a lawyer, and a probation officer and for making inappropriate remarks from the bench.
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.
“Judge Mills has engaged in a pattern of making comments that are discourteous, sarcastic, demeaning and belittling to those appearing before him,” the commission said at the time. “Such remarks toward a litigant or counsel are not consistent with the conduct required by canon 3B(4),” requiring 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.
Copyright 2012, Metropolitan News Company