X

Thank you for sharing!

Your article was successfully shared with the contacts you provided.
COURT: Contra Costa County Superior APPOINTED: Elevated in 1998, through trial court unification DATE OF BIRTH: Aug. 31, 1957 LAW SCHOOL: Northwestern School of Law of Lewis and Clark College, Portland, Ore. PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: municipal court judge, Walnut Creek-Danville Judicial District. Appointed in 1995 by Governor Pete Wilson Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Bruce Mills is a really big fan of Continuing Education of the Bar reference books. In fact, some attorneys say they can almost predict how the judge will rule on an issue if they know what CEB books have to say about it. “He refers to the [California Judges] Bench Book a lot,” said Deputy DA Stephanie Anobil. “If you have an issue, that is his bible.” Walnut Creek criminal defense attorney David Larkin added this strategy advice: “It’s a good thing to have CEB on your side.” Mills, a Walnut Creek judge, is outspoken about how important he thinks CEB books are. He said he often asks attorneys to use the reference books’ cases as legal standards. And inexperienced prosecutors and defenders — the ones who appear before him the most — should use such texts more, he said. “Criminal search and seizure is a finite part of the law,” Mills said, adding that 99 percent of criminal law is covered “in six books” — among them the CEB texts on procedure and practice, search and seizure, and First District Court of Appeal Justice Mark Simons’ book on preliminary hearings. Simons is a former Contra Costa County judge. “If I have a legal question, I can look it up in 60 seconds,” Mills said, flipping through 30 pages in one such book that covers DUI law. “For the life of me, I cannot figure out why attorneys are not better prepared.” Not everyone shares the judge’s passion. Some managers at the DA and PD’s offices say they oppose relying heavily on reference books. “It’s not legal authority,” said Bruce Flynn, who supervises Walnut Creek prosecutors. Flynn said deputy DAs are supposed to use court decisions, not reference books, to support their arguments. “I consider books like that to be a secondary and tertiary source,” he said. John “Jack” Funk, who oversees Walnut Creek’s public defenders, agreed. “The mere fact that there is a case in CEB that says such-and-such doesn’t mean that there isn’t another way to approach it,” Funk said. Attorneys on both sides of the aisle do give Mills credit for being willing to research a sticky legal point while sitting on the bench and for his ability to settle both criminal and civil cases. Mills’ efficiency is one of the reasons the Walnut Creek court doesn’t have a backlog, defense attorney Larkin said. Anobil, the deputy DA, advised attorneys not to pace the floor, to be succinct and to avoid the temptation to “throw in the kitchen sink” during oral arguments. If Mills wants an attorney to flesh out an issue, he will ask, Anobil said. In general, Funk said, the Walnut Creek court is tough on minor offenses, such as driving on a suspended license. While other courts treat such offences as nuisances, the Walnut Creek penalty is an $850 fine and five days in jail. Mills says he only imposes that sentence for serious offenders, such as those caught driving when their license was suspended for a DUI. For less serious suspension cases, he often only imposes a fine, or may allow defendants to work off the fine at a jail work detail. Defense attorneys also say Walnut Creek judges come down hard if a defendant picks up a new offense while on probation that was imposed by one of the local jurists. On the other hand, veteran criminal defense attorney Barry Blackie Burak praised Mills for being “very pleasant and cordial.” “He knows the value of a case.” Before the ex-prosecutor was appointed to the Walnut Creek municipal bench in 1995, he was active in local politics. Mills served on the county’s Republican central committee and ran for the bench in 1992 against a sitting judge — Bruce Van Voorhis. During that campaign, Mills pushed for the Commission on Judicial Performance to acknowledge that they were investigating misconduct allegations against Van Voorhis. And while Mills lost the June 1992 election, three months later the CJP publicly scolded Van Voorhis for ethics breaches that included humiliating attorneys, jurors and court staff. Van Voorhis was removed from the bench earlier this year for similar offenses. After Mills was appointed in 1995 by Gov. Pete Wilson, he had to adjust to the delicate politics of working down the hall from Van Voorhis. And courthouse intrigue thickened when Mills’ wife, civil attorney Cheryl Mills, had a November 2002 runoff with Commissioner Joel Golub for a judicial seat. Golub works downstairs from Bruce Mills. Although in an interview Mills openly fumed about statements Golub made during his wife’s campaign, the judge said those on the Walnut Creek bench deal with one another in a professional manner. “We all want to make the court work,” he said. Now that Mills has served on the bench for eight years, he is itching for a new challenge. “I would have liked to have stayed at the DA’s office longer to try more serious cases,” said Mills, who was a deputy DA for nine years before being appointed to the bench when he was 37. Now 45, Mills said he isn’t interested in becoming a criminal defense attorney, but he’s considering returning to trial work. He was coy about what area of the law he was interested in. “If the right position was offered to me, I don’t know that I would not want another shot,” Mills said. “Because of that, I don’t know if I will retire as a judge.” You can order past judicial profiles of more than 100 Bay Area judges at www.therecorder.com/profilesor by calling 415-749-5523.

Want to continue reading?
Become a Free ALM Digital Reader.

Benefits of a Digital Membership:

  • Free access to 3 articles* every 30 days
  • Access to the entire ALM network of websites
  • Unlimited access to the ALM suite of newsletters
  • Build custom alerts on any search topic of your choosing
  • Search by a wide range of topics

*May exclude premium content
Already have an account?

 
 

ALM Legal Publication Newsletters

Sign Up Today and Never Miss Another Story.

As part of your digital membership, you can sign up for an unlimited number of a wide range of complimentary newsletters. Visit your My Account page to make your selections. Get the timely legal news and critical analysis you cannot afford to miss. Tailored just for you. In your inbox. Every day.

Copyright © 2020 ALM Media Properties, LLC. All Rights Reserved.