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SACRAMENTO � A Contra Costa County judge with a sharp tongue was publicly admonished Monday by the Commission on Judicial Performance. Judge Bruce Mills was accused of browbeating several lawyers in his court and suggesting in front of their clients that their actions constituted “malpractice.” In a November 2004 case, Mills berated a public defender, Jivaka Candappa, for not persuading his client to accept a court-offered disposition in a credit card theft case, investigators said. “Fine,” Mills said, according to a transcript. “Sometimes I can’t protect people from themselves, and sometimes I can’t protect people from an attorney that is giving them the wrong advice. What I can tell you, Mr. Candappa, is that this is just stupidity and arrogance.” Investigators also said Mills engaged in a series of improper ex parte communications with attorneys involved in a 1997 misdemeanor theft case. At a May 10 hearing before the commission, Mills apologized for his “malpractice” comments. But he also produced statements from another judge and two attorneys who agreed that the targeted lawyers’ conduct “fell below the standard of care expected of a competent attorney,” according to the commission report. “However,” the report continued, “the issue before the commission is not whether there was attorney malpractice, but rather, whether there was judicial misconduct. Irrespective of whether the attorneys in question were acting in a competent manner, Judge Mills’ demeaning and insulting comments to the attorneys in open court were inappropriate and in violation of canon 3B(4).” Mills also objected to the ex parte communications allegation on the grounds that the commission waited too long to investigate � six years from when the case was heard � and to take action against the judge. “That seems like a long time to me,” said Mills’ attorney, James Murphy of San Francisco. “It causes me as a lawyer to question the motivation of waiting so long to file a complaint.” In response, the commission said it received its first complaint about Mills’ actions in June 2003. Investigators consolidated the case with six more complaints against the judge received over the next two years. Commissioners said the investigation was timely and all rules were followed. The commission found that Mills, after accepting a plea of no contest in the 1997 theft case, talked to the defendant � without the presence of her attorney or a prosecutor � about entering a diversion program. The defendant’s lawyer returned and after he and the judge met in chambers, Mills set aside the no-contest plea and granted the defendant diversion, according to investigators � again, with no prosecutor present. When the district attorney’s office heard about what happened, prosecutors successfully moved to rescind the diversion order and reinstated the criminal charges, even though the defendant had already completed more than half of her community service, attended an anti-theft education program and paid $315 in fees. The judges’ conversations “without any prosecutor’s knowledge or consent constituted an improper ex parte communication in violation of canon 3B(7),” the commission found. The judge insists no improper conversations took place, and he submitted statements from a fellow judge and two attorneys saying that Mills followed standard policies. “Our whole point was that the Contra Costa district attorney’s office has allowed a judge to discuss diversion cases without the district attorney present,” Murphy said. Seven commissioners voted to publicly admonish Mills while two others, Judge Ris� Jones Pichon and Lawrence Simi, sought a less severe private admonishment, noting the amount of time that had passed since Mills presided over the theft case. Mills was privately admonished in 2001 “for ignoring a defendant’s request for counsel and attempting to coerce him into a guilty plea,” the commission’s report said.

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