Tuesday, January 8, 2013
CJP Sets Hearing for Judge Charged With Interference in Son’s Case
Walnut Creek Jurist Denies That He Did Anything Improper
By a MetNews Staff Writer
The Commission on Judicial Performance said yesterday it has set a Feb. 19 hearing into charges that a Contra Costa Superior Court judge interfered in a case involving the judge’s son.
The commission accuses Judge Bruce C. Mills of willful misconduct, conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice, and improper action, charges that could result in his removal from the bench.
The CJP claims that after Mills’ minor son was cited for possession of tobacco, the judge had an ex parte conversation with a judge pro tem to whom the case was assigned. As a result of that conversation, the commission charges, the judge’s son was permitted to receive credit for time spent in an out-of-state program against a community service requirement that a court commissioner had previously imposed.
In his answer, filed by San Francisco attorney James Murphy, the judge claims that the allegations “are incomplete and in most instances wrong,” and says the case should be dismissed in the interests of justice. He says he did nothing improper,
According to the commission, Mills’ son appeared before Commissioner Joel Golub in March 2011, pled guilty to an infraction, and was ordered 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 2011.
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. But when the clerk told Mills that the matter was to be heard by a judge pro tem, Mills allegedly “spoke to the judge pro tem in her chambers…off the record,” and got her to agree to credit the time spent in the out-of-state program.
In his answer, however, Mills noted that he and Golub have “strained relations” and do not communicate. Their difficulties, he said, go back to 1995, when Mills was appointed to the judicial opening that Golub applied for, and to 2002, when the judge’s then-spouse, Cheryl Mills, defeated Golub for an open seat on the court.
That contest, the judge continued, led to a costly lawsuit in which Cheryl Mills successfully defended allegations by Golub of campaign law violations, as well as to a suit in which Cheryl Mills successfully accused Golub’s “significant other” of tearing down campaign signs.
Bruce Mills says he went to court with his son, but assumed that in view of those events, Golub would recuse himself from Alex Mills’ case, but instead he reduced the charge from a misdemeanor to an infraction, thereby eliminating the involvement of the district attorney and other agencies from the case.
“The case then only involved the party and the court, therefore any communications by or on behalf of die party with the court could not be ‘ex parte’ since there was no other side to be excluded from discussions.”
Mills says he contacted the court clerk, not to initiate an ex parte contact with Golub—who was not in court that day and with whom he would not have spoken in any case—but to inform her that his son was still attending a wilderness program in Utah and would not be appearing in court that day.
At no time, he says, did he ask to appear before the judge pro tem. There was, he says, a brief conversation with the clerk and judge pro tem, which they initiated and which took place—in the courthouse hallway, not chambers—because Mills saw them as he returned to the building from lunch that afternoon.
“Judge Mills did not consider his conversation with [clerk] Jane Sims and Commissioner Pro Tem Peters to be ‘ex parte’ because there was no other side to the case and, without another side, by definition his communication could not be ex parte,” according to the judge’s answer.
The Feb. 19 hearing is to take place in San Francisco before a panel of Presiding Court of Appeal Justice Dennis Perluss of this district’s Div. Seven, Orange Superior Court Judge Gail A. Andler, and Ventura Superior Court Judge Vincent J. O’Neill Jr.
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 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 2013, Metropolitan News Company