SAN FRANCISCO -- A state Commission on Judicial Performance hearing next month will determine whether Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Bruce Clayton Mills violated judicial ethics by handling his teenage son's tobacco possession case outside a courtroom -- an allegation the judge disputes.
If the charges are proved, the 55-year-old veteran judge could be subjected to discipline ranging from a public admonishment to his removal from the bench, a commission spokeswoman said.
The teenage son of Mills and his ex-wife, Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Cheryl Mills, was cited in October 2010 by Moraga police with misdemeanor tobacco possession.
The charge was downgraded to an infraction to which the teen pleaded guilty in March 2011 before Commissioner Joel Golub at the Walnut Creek courthouse, where his father presided at the time.
Golub ordered the teen to complete 20 hours of volunteer work, which he failed to do, because eight days after his plea he was enrolled in 10 months of treatment programs out of state.
The commission charges Bruce Mills with committing "willful misconduct," "conduct prejudicial to the administration of justice" and "improper action" on Oct. 4, 2011, when a hearing on his son's failure to comply with the community service order was scheduled but never happened.
The commission claims Mills improperly spoke about his son's case to Golub's clerk and a pro tem commissioner filling in for
In a response to the charges, an attorney for Bruce Mills wrote that the judge did nothing wrong. Because the case involved an infraction, the police, prosecutors and probation department were not involved. No one who should have been present was excluded, the defense claims.
Records show the commission has a history of disciplining Bruce Mills.
It privately admonished him in 2001 for ignoring a defendant's request for counsel and attempting to coerce him into pleading guilty.
It publicly admonished him in 2006 for having improper communications with a defendant and an attorney in a 1997 misdemeanor case, and for "a pattern of making comments that are discourteous, sarcastic, demeaning and belittling to those appearing before him."
Mills was a Contra Costa County deputy district attorney before then-Gov. Pete Wilson appointed him to the municipal court bench in 1995. He became a Contra Costa County Superior Court judge when the state courts consolidated in 1998.
Mills' hearing, scheduled for Feb. 19 in San Francisco, will be open to the public.
Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1684. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.