A now-retired Contra Costa County Superior Court judge who was previously reproved for misconduct five times by a state commission was found Tuesday to have engaged in additional misconduct and was permanently barred from ever acting as a judge in California.
Former Judge Bruce Mills, 63, retired from the bench on May 30, while charges filed against him last October were pending before the San Francisco-based California Commission on Judicial Performance.
The 11-member commission on Tuesday announced its conclusions that Mills engaged in three instances of willful misconduct in 2016. It censured him and permanently barred him from seeking or holding judicial office or accepting assignments as a temporary judge in any California state court.
The censure and ban on serving as a judge were the strongest punishment the commission can give to a retired judge.
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Mills, who became a judge in 1995, was previously found by the commission to have engaged in misconduct five times between 2001 and 2013. He received two public admonitions, one private admonition and two advisory letters.
The commission said in its 23-page decision that permanently barring Mills from work as a judge was necessary "to protect the public and maintain public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary."
"Given the seriousness of the misconduct, the judge's extensive history of discipline, his failure to appreciate the impropriety of his conduct, and his lack of candor as evidenced by his shifting explanations for his conduct, we conclude that there is a strong likelihood that Judge Mills will engage in subsequent misconduct if he were to serve in a judicial capacity in the future," it said.
Two of the new misconduct counts concerned the case of a man who was found in contempt of court in a divorce proceeding and was sentenced by Mills to 25 days in jail.
The commission said Mills initially indicated in court that the man could get good time credits to earn early release, but later modified the sentence to deny good time credits without notifying the parties in the case.
Nine days later, after the man's lawyer sent a letter contending he was legally entitled to the credits, Mills granted the credits but said he did so because of the man's history of filing appeals and complaints and not because he believed the credits were legal.
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In the third instance of 2016 misconduct, the commission found that Mills improperly talked to a prosecutor during jury deliberations in a drunk-driving case about how he would have used evidence from breath-analysis machines.
Mills's lawyer in the commission proceedings, James Murphy, could not be reached for comment.
Mills, a former deputy district attorney, was appointed a municipal court judge by Gov. Pete Wilson in 1995 and became a superior court judge three years later when the two courts merged.
In previous actions, the commission publicly admonished Mills in 2013 for talking privately to a court clerk and a temporary judge about his desired outcome in a case concerning his teenage son.
In 2006, it publicly admonished him for having one-sided contact with a defendant and her lawyer and for making demeaning and insulting remarks to people appearing before him. The commission's other reprovals came in 2001, 2008 and 2011.