San Francisco Paralegal Association


  • 10/24/2017 6:04 PM | Denise Bashline (Administrator)

    ABA Journal News

    October 24, 2017

    By Debra Cassens Weiss


     ABA Center for Innovation logo.

    The ABA Center for Innovation hopes to identify wrongful conviction trends


    Wrongful conviction trends will be identified with the help of e-discovery software in a new project that will use a network of forensic and legal experts to investigate potential cases.

    The ABA Center for Innovation and software developer Relativity on Tuesday announced the project known as DFENDR, an acronym for Distributed Forensic Expert Network Delegating Review. The project will analyze data on cases to determine whether bias or other factors could have contributed to wrongful convictions, according to the Bar Leader.


    The project has these three goals:

    1. To collect data and identify the key factors contributing to wrongful convictions based on forensic science. An initial focus will look at the link between cognitive biases and two common forensic techniques that produce invalid or improper evidence: hair analysis and arson investigation.
    2. To improve the review process for wrongful convictions with the help of e-discovery technology. Relativity’s e-discovery platform will be used to bring together the work of a network of legal and forensic experts.
    3. To develop a talent pipeline by giving law and forensic science students real-world experience.

    Bryan Wilson, a fellow with the ABA Center for Innovation, is heading the project. “With Relativity and a growing network of legal and forensic experts, the DFENDR Project should be better equipped to accelerate the review of wrongful convictions around the country,” Wilson said in the press release.


    “We’re looking forward to setting an example of how the legal community can use technology to fight injustices caused by incorrect assumptions about human behavior.”




  • 10/24/2017 6:02 PM | Denise Bashline (Administrator)

    ABA Journal News 

    October 23, 2017

    By Debra Cassens Weiss


     Johnson & Johnson talcum powder

    Raihana Asral / Shutterstock.



    Updated: A judge in California has overturned a $417 million verdict and granted a new trial in a suit claiming talcum powder causes ovarian cancer.


    Judge Maren Nelson of Los Angeles Superior Court said damages were excessive and causation proof was insufficient, report the Associated Press, the New York Times, Reuters and a Reuters On the Case column. Nelson also said three jurors who voted against liability were improperly excluded from determining damages.


    Nelson overturned a verdict in a case brought by Eva Echeverria, who died after the verdict. An appeal is planned, according to lawyer Mark Robinson Jr.


    Jurors had found Johnson & Johnson was liable for $408 million of the verdict and its subsidiary responsible for the rest, Bloomberg Technology reports. Nelson said Johnson & Johnson can’t be held liable for failing to warn talcum powder users of an alleged cancer link if it didn’t make or market the product, according to the Bloomberg story. Nelson also said there was no clear and convincing evidence that Johnson & Johnson or its subsidiary acted with malice to support a punitive damages award.


    A lawyer for Johnson & Johnson, Bart Williams of Proskauer Rose, told Reuters On the Case that Nelson’s ruling on insufficient proof was important. “Given the court’s rulings that the evidence at trial did not establish that talc causes ovarian cancer generally, and that plaintiff’s specific causation expert did not properly employ the methodology she espoused, we believe the court’s ruling should have significant impact on pending California cases that rely on the very same studies,” he said.


    Johnson & Johnson said it was pleased with the verdict. “Ovarian cancer is a devastating disease—but it is not caused by the cosmetic-grade talc we have used in Johnson’s Baby Powder for decades,” the company said in a statement.


    The California decision is the second victory for Johnson & Johnson this month in a talcum-powder suit. The Missouri Court of Appeals ruled the family of Jacqueline Fox had sued in the wrong jurisdiction and overturned a $72 million verdict. Story updated on Oct. 24 to add information from Reuters On the Case story.






  • 10/23/2017 5:01 AM | Denise Bashline (Administrator)

    New York Times

    October 23, 2017

    By Adam Liptak



    Voters at a polling station in Dublin, Ohio, in 2012. After skipping a single federal election cycle, Ohio voters are sent a notice. If they fail to respond and do not vote in the next four years, their names are purged from the rolls. Credit Aaron P. Bernstein for The New York Times



    WASHINGTON — Larry Harmon, a software engineer who lives near Akron, Ohio, says he is “a firm believer in the right to vote.” But sometimes he stays home on Election Day, on purpose.


    In 2012, for instance, he was unimpressed by the candidates. He did not vote, he said, because “there isn’t a box on the ballot that says ‘none of the above.’”


    Three years later, Mr. Harmon did want to vote, against a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. But his name was not on the list at his usual polling place.


    It turned out that Mr. Harmon’s occasional decisions not to vote had led election officials to strike his name from the voting rolls. On Nov. 8, the Supreme Court will hear arguments about whether the officials had gone too far in making the franchise a use-it-or-lose-it proposition.


    Failing to vote — or deciding not to vote — is not unusual. In 2016, more than 70 million registered voters did not cast ballots, according to the United States Election Assistance Commission. That was more than a third of all registered voters.


    Even in Ohio, a swing state where votes really matter, about 29 percent of registered voters did not cast ballots in 2016.


    Ohio is more aggressive than any other state in culling its voter rolls based on the failure to vote. After skipping a single federal election cycle, voters are sent a notice. If they fail to respond and do not vote in the next four years, their names are purged from the rolls.


    The idea behind the notices is that failing to vote suggests that the voter may have moved. State officials say their approach protects the integrity of the voting rolls.


    Mr. Harmon, a Navy veteran, said he had voted in 2004 and 2008 but skipped the next presidential election, along with the midterm elections in 2010 and 2014.


    When he tried to vote in 2015, he had lived in the same place for about 16 years.


    “I’ve been living in Ohio my whole life,” he said. “I pay property taxes and income taxes. I register my car. They obviously had all the data to know that I was a resident. They could have looked it up, but they were too cheap.” 


    The question for the justices is whether two federal laws allow Ohio to cull its voter rolls using notices prompted by the failure to vote. The laws prohibit states from removing people from voter rolls “by reason of the person’s failure to vote.” But they allow election officials who suspect that a voter has moved to send a confirmation notice.


    The United States Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, in Cincinnati, ruled in favor of Mr. Harmon last year, saying that Ohio had violated the National Voter Registration Act of 1993 by using the failure to vote as a “trigger” for sending the notices.


    Without that decision, “the ballots of more than 7,500 eligible Ohioans would have gone uncounted in the November 2016 election,” Mr. Harmon’s lawyers at Demos and the American Civil Liberties Union wrote in a Supreme Court brief.


    There are other ways to calculate the impact of Ohio’s approach. A Reuters study last year found that at least 144,000 people were removed from the voting rolls in recent years in Ohio’s three largest counties, which are home to Cleveland, Cincinnati and Columbus.


    “Voters have been struck from the rolls in Democratic-leaning neighborhoods at roughly twice the rate as in Republican neighborhoods,” the study found. “Neighborhoods that have a high proportion of poor, African-American residents are hit the hardest.”


    State officials say they sent Mr. Harmon a notice in 2011. He said he never saw it.


    “I don’t remember getting that, and I don’t know why they sent it in the mail,” he said. “I’m out in a rural area, and sometimes I get other people’s mail. Sometimes other people get my mail.”


    Twelve states, generally Democratic-leaning, filed a brief supporting Mr. Harmon. Seventeen states, generally Republican, filed a brief on the other side.


    The Justice Department for decades took the position that failing to vote should not lead to disenfranchisement. In the appeals court, the Obama administration filed a brief supporting Mr. Harmon. After the last presidential election, the department switched sides in the case, Husted v. A. Philip Randolph Institute, No. 16-980.


    Mr. Harmon said he suspected something larger was afoot in some states’ efforts to restrict voting.


    “I really never had a problem with voter ID, because I’ve always had a driver’s license,” he said. “But now I really feel that they’re trying to get rid of voters.”


    Mr. Harmon said Ohio’s system for managing its voting rolls would never pass muster in the private sector.

    “As an engineer,” he said, “we have to collect data all the time from all over the world and manage information. It doesn’t seem like they’re even trying.”


    A few other states use variations on Ohio’s approach, but none of them move as fast. “Ohio is the only state that commences such a process based on the failure to vote in a single federal election cycle,” said a brief from the League of Women Voters and the Brennan Center for Justice. “Literally every other state uses a different, and more voter-protective, practice.”


    Mr. Harmon said he hoped the Supreme Court would protect his right to vote.


    “In most other aspects of civil liberties, the government goes out of the way to make sure your rights are enforced,” he said. “The right to vote is the most important right you have. If you can’t vote, you really don’t have a democratic system.”





  • 10/23/2017 4:59 AM | Denise Bashline (Administrator)

    ABA Journal News

    October 20, 2017

    By Debra Cassens Weiss





    Federal law doesn’t prevent Yahoo from releasing a dead man’s emails to the personal representatives of his estate, according to the top court in Massachusetts.


    The Stored Communications Act doesn’t prevent release of the emails when the personal representatives consent to the disclosure, according to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court. The Boston Globe, Reuters, Law360 (sub. req.) and covered the Oct. 16 decision (PDF).


    Yahoo could still prevail, however, in its bid to withhold the emails. The next step in the case is for a judge to determine whether Yahoo’s terms of service amounted to an enforceable contract that authorized the company to withhold the emails.


    The opinion does not explain why the personal representatives—who were the brother and sister of of the decedent, John Ajemian—wanted the emails. Ajemian, who did not have a will, was 43 when he died in a 2006 bike accident.


    The Stored Communications Act prevents companies that provide services to the public from voluntarily disclosing the contents of stored communications, with some exceptions. The court held that an exception applied; it allows disclosure with the “lawful consent” of an email writer or recipient.


    Personal representatives lawfully consent on a decedent’s behalf in a variety of circumstances under both federal and common law, the opinion said. Giving a broad construction to the term in the federal law accords with the broad authority given personal representatives, according to the court.


    Reuters sees the decision as “a notable precedent governing what happens to email after someone dies.” The articles note that trade groups had asked the court to rule for Yahoo.




  • 10/22/2017 12:50 AM | Denise Bashline (Administrator)

    The Recorder

    October 19, 2017

    By Susan P. Elgin, Charles F. Knapp, Bonita D. Moore and Daniel G. Prokott 


    (l-r) Charles Knapp, Bonita Moore, Dan Prokott, and Susan Elgin.
    (l-r) Charles Knapp, Bonita Moore, Dan Prokott, and Susan Elgin. (Courtesy photos


    Beginning Jan. 1, 2018, California employers will no longer be able to ask job applicants about their salary history. California joins a small but growing group of states and cities that have enacted similar measures, including New York City, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Oregon, Delaware and Massachusetts. This development is the latest in a number of California legislative initiatives designed to promote pay equity.


    Under California’s new law, Labor Code Section 432.3, employers may not ask, either orally or in writing, for an applicant’s compensation or benefits history. In addition, an employer cannot rely on an applicant’s past salary as a factor in determining whether to offer employment or in determining what salary to offer. Lastly, the new law requires employers to provide, “upon reasonable request,” the “pay scale” for the applicable position.


    However, there are a couple of exceptions to Section 432.3. First, a prospective employer may consider an applicant’s pay history in determining what salary to offer the applicant if the applicant voluntarily offers salary history without prompting. But even if an applicant voluntarily offers salary history, the prospective employer may not ask additional questions about the applicant’s compensation or benefits history, such as requesting the employee to provide copies of W-2s related to prior employment or other documents to support the employee’s voluntary disclosure.


    Second, pay history may be considered if it is publicly available under federal or state law, such as through California’s Public Records Act or the federal Freedom of Information Act. However, California’s Fair Pay Act (Labor Code section 1197.5) prohibits employers from relying solely on an employee’s prior salary history to justify a sex, race or ethnicity-based pay difference.


    To comply with this law, employers should remove questions regarding salary history from job applications and other hiring materials, such as template interview forms. In addition, employers should counsel their internal recruiters, interviewers and others involved in the hiring process about these new obligations to ensure they avoid asking questions about an applicant’s salary history. Employers interested in gauging the market rate for a position or an applicant’s salary expectation should plan to replace salary history questions with questions about an applicant’s desired salary. Over time, specific guidance will develop regarding the application of the new law.


    The authors all practice at Faegre Baker Daniels. Susan Elgin, an associate in the firm’s Des Moines, Iowa office, represents businesses in employment litigation and advises clients in the area of employment law. Chuck Knapp, a partner in the firm’s Minneapolis office, leads Faegre Baker Daniels’ employment litigation team and focuses his practice on representing employers in employment-related litigation. Bonita (Bonnie) Moore, a partner in the firm’s Los Angeles office, is a member of the firm’s labor and employment group. Dan Prokott, a partner in the firm’s Minneapolis office, advises businesses regarding complex workplace matters.





  • 10/20/2017 7:30 AM | Denise Bashline (Administrator)

    The New York Times

    October 18, 2017

    By John Pfaff



    A report released by ProPublica suggests that Supreme Court justices struggle with statistical data. Credit Gabriella Demczuk for The New York Times


    Supreme Court justices have a tough job. They are required to hand down decisions that can affect millions of people and cost billions of dollars. And while some of the issues before them are purely legal, many turn on complex policy questions: Do black voters in the South still face substantial discrimination? How reliable are eyewitnesses? Are people convicted of sex offenses very likely to reoffend?


    These questions can be answered only by understanding what the data says. Unfortunately, a report released by ProPublica on Tuesday suggests that the justices struggle with that task. Looking at a random sample of cases from 2011 to 2015, ProPublica found that the court cited faulty research or introduced its own errors in nearly a third of the 24 cases that relied on such facts.


    In 2013, for example, Shelby County v. Holder invalidated a critical portion of the Voting Rights Act of 1965, making it arguably one of the most consequential cases in recent years. Justice John G. Roberts Jr., arguing that the South had taken great strides that made the protections of the act unnecessary, based his decision in part on a Senate Judiciary Committee analysis that misinterpreted how the Census Bureau reports race and ethnicity data and wrongly suggested that registration gaps between minorities and whites had shrunk significantly, an error that neither he nor his clerks caught.


    As ProPublica itself acknowledges, its sample is too small to draw any solid statistical inferences, but the results are still troubling. They are also not particularly surprising. None of the justices has any serious training in statistics, and the clerks who assist them are almost all recent law school graduates, who rarely have any formal statistical background. Empirical facts are central to what the court does, but its members lack expertise. 


    Sometimes justices seem almost amused by that lack. When presented with potentially critical empirical evidence in a major gerrymandering case this month, Chief Justice Roberts joked that “it may be simply my educational background” before describing the material as “sociological gobbledygook.”


    Policy is a major part of the court’s docket now, whether it likes it or not. The justices cannot avoid adapting to this, and they cannot simply dismiss evidence they don’t understand as “gobbledygook.”


     The court has historically relied on amicus briefs, written by outside experts, to provide it with that broader empirical background and help compensate for its own institutional shortcomings. Unfortunately, these briefs are easily abused. In a 2014 article, Allison Orr Larsen, a law professor at William & Mary, pointed out that many amicus briefs include false or unsubstantiated empirical assertions, at least some of which make it into justices’ opinions. ProPublica similarly identified amicus-writing organizations that could not explain where specific numerical claims came from.


    It would be easy to avoid the more egregious problems by simply refusing to rely on unsourced claims. But that fix would not go very far. It’s not hard to get factually dubious articles published. Some industry groups appear to have their own nominally peer-reviewed journals, which provide the illusion of respectability for results skewed to advance their interests. And major cases that make it to the Supreme Court often spend years in the trial and appellate stages, providing interested groups plenty of time to gin up favorable findings.


    So what to do?


    In the 1980s, the legal expert Kenneth Culp Davis proposed that the court create an outside research organization, akin to the Congressional Research Service, to do research on its behalf. However worthwhile, the idea went nowhere.


    Perhaps a more viable idea is one that Mr. Davis rejected: establish a group of technical advisers to the court. A small team of social scientists and statisticians could help justices sift through empirical evidence. There is no shortage of scholars with Ph.D.s who would be eager to do that work for the court.

    The court could take steps today, without any institutional change, by hiring clerks with empirical training instead of only recently minted J.D.s. Or if there is an immediate and specific need that the current clerks can’t address, justices could have the ability to hire experts to assist them with specific issues. (The president of the American Sociological Association offered to have a team of sociologists sit down with Chief Justice Roberts after his “gobbledygook” comment.)


    Any proposal like this would face hurdles, but they are surmountable. Perhaps there is a concern that justices would hire highly partisan experts, arguably making things worse. We could instead ask the clerk of the court to make nonpartisan hiring decisions, or require that six of the nine justices agree to any such expert, so that a bare majority couldn’t just pick someone who favors its position.


    In the end, the question is a comparative one. It’s not, “Is there a perfect solution?” but rather, “Can the court make its policy decisions better?” The answer to the latter question is clear.


    John Pfaff, a professor at Fordham Law School, is the author of “Locked In: The True Causes of Mass Incarceration and How to Achieve Real Reform.”





  • 10/20/2017 12:03 AM | Denise Bashline (Administrator)

    Daily Republic

    October 19, 2017

    By Ryan McCarthy



    Judge Garry T. Ichikawa.

    Courtesy photo


    FAIRFIELD — Judge Garry T. Ichikawa – who likes to say he was born with a shovel in one hand and a book in the other – is retiring after more than 17 years on the bench, the Solano County Superior Court said Wednesday.


    Gov. Gray Davis appointed Ichikawa in 2000 and the judge served his judicial career in Family Law and Juvenile Law, almost always holding the positions of Presiding Juvenile Judge or Supervising Family Law Judge, the court said.

    Ichikawa is the third of five generations of family who have lived and worked in Solano County, the court said.


    His grandparents immigrated to the Suisun Valley from Japan in the early 20th century and during World War II his parents spent time in an internment camp, the court said. Returning to Solano County after World War II, they were among the first people of Japanese ancestry to be able to purchase land in Suisun Valley, the court added.


    Ichikawa graduated from Armijo High School, the University of California, Berkeley and, after his honorable discharge from the U.S. Army, graduated from the University of California, Davis School of Law, the court said.


    He served as a deputy public defender for two years before going into private practice, where he soon specialized in family law, the court said.


    Ichikawa was elected to the Solano Community College governing board and was twice elected to the Fairfield City Council.


    He helped establish many successful court programs, including Dependency Drug Court, Domestic Violence Court, Adoption Day and educational rights for foster children, the court said.


    Ichikawa has received local, state and national recognition for his work in the justice system and the community.


    Presiding Judge Robert C. Fracchia said in a press release about the retirement that “The best justice is local justice, grounded in community values.”


    “As a lifelong resident of Solano County, Judge Ichikawa understands Solano County and has always acted to promote its best interest,” Fracchia said. “He has been repeatedly recognized as one of the finest juvenile and family law judges in our state and many of our best programs are a product of his vision and direction. To say he will be missed is an understatement for our court and the legal community.”


    In the press release, Judge Ichikawa said, “I thank the community for giving me the opportunity to serve it all these years, and I dedicate those years to the memory of my parents and all others like them.”


    “They started with very little,” he said, “and lived their lives with honor so that their children could be accepted as Americans.”




  • 10/20/2017 12:01 AM | Denise Bashline (Administrator)

    Above The Law

    October 19, 2017

    By Jill Switzer



     It’s finally happening. Every California lawyer, whether dead or alive, active or inactive, disciplined or disbarred, is getting divorced. The State Bar of California is “deunifying,” leaving to itself the tasks of admission, discipline, public protection, and access to justice while launching the sixteen substantive sections, plus the Young Lawyers section, into uncharted seas of their own, effective January 1, 2018. The sections and the Young Lawyers Section will be a non-profit 501(c)(6) and voluntary to boot.


    Hopefully, the divorce will be amicable, at least it is so far, but when it comes to divvying up assets and custody issues, it may be a different story. Bifurcation as to status is as of January 1, 2018; property division and custody issues may take longer. Governor Edmund G. (Jerry) Brown, Jr. signed SB 36 at the end of September.


    Deunification has been some years in the making, given the State Bar’s actual ability to irritate, to an amazing degree, the California legislature, which holds the pursestrings for setting annual dues. Watching the State Bar fumble time and again over the past few years has been watching the proverbial train wreck: you hate to watch, but you just can’t turn away. It doesn’t say much when lawyers who are so good at advising others have trouble keeping their own house in order.


    Just in the past several years, the State Bar has endured litigation which morphed into binding arbitration by a terminated Executive Director (he lost), the resignation of the Chief Trial Counsel about the same time that the Executive Director left the building, the failure of the bar to get a dues bill passed for 2017, the re-working of proposed changes to the California Rules of Professional Responsibility, a scathing audit of bar operations by the state auditor….should I go on? 


    All you need to do is Google State Bar of California and “audit” or “deunification” or “cut score,” the current hot topic, and you can spend hours reading about the mishaps of what has been the country’s largest unified bar association. In fact, the Los Angeles Times recently editorialized that the bar exam cut score, presently the second highest in the nation, should be lowered. 


    Another reason for deunification has been the valid concern about the anti-trust impact of the United States Supreme Court decision in the North Carolina Dental Examiners v. Federal Trade Commission case. 

    So, in response and effective January 1, 2018, there will be some changes to the State Bar Board of Trustees governance to reduce the likelihood of a similar situation here in the Golden State.


    Proponents of deunification have pointed to the State Bar’s apparent inability to multi-task, and by stripping the Bar of all jobs except admissions and discipline, public protection and access to justice, the hope is that the Bar will be better able to focus on its delineated responsibilities. 


    Fingers crossed.


    However, as a dinosaur, I will look back nostalgically at those days when the State Bar was unified, both a regulatory agency and a trade association for lawyers, the latter term which seems to have now an evil connotation. Pity. I think lawyers would like to have someone, preferably its regulator, say some good things about what lawyers do, rather than just castigating the entire profession for the sins of the few.

    Hopefully the new “trade association” of the bar will do that, in addition to providing continuing legal education for its members. Some organization needs to speak up on behalf of the profession, rather than just continue to be everyone’s punching bag for real and imagined ills. We don’t make the facts; we just do the best that we can with the facts we’re given.


    We lawyers seem to be wimps when it comes to telling our story. Not every lawyer is evil, not every lawyer overbills her clients, not every lawyer abandons his client, not every lawyer steals from the client trust account. I always thought (I know that for some readers that’s assuming facts not in evidence) that one of the missions of a unified bar was to be the voice of its members to the public, not just for public protection purposes, but to educate the non-lawyer community about what lawyers do. Silly me.


    I digress. There are a number of deunified State Bars around the country, but 37 state bars are unified


    According to the ABA resource page, the premise behind bar unification has been seen as a way to better regulate lawyers within a particular jurisdiction. That premise has hit the wall in California, and it will be fascinating to see if the deunified bar does a better job in its stated mission of public protection. It’s going to take some years to see what happens and whether de-unification does the job it’s supposed to do.


    The State Bar of California, which is the largest unified bar in the country, was created ninety years ago in 1927, and while assailed for years for issues such as failure to discipline errant attorneys, managerial incompetence and the like, it has managed to survive as a unified bar until now.


    The issue of compulsory membership in the State Bar is not new here. In the early 1990s, Keller v. State Bar of California went all the way up to the United States Supreme Court. Could the State Bar use mandatory dues for lobbying on issues that members disagreed with? The Supreme Court said no and that unified bar associations had to create some way for members who disagreed with lobbying policies to take a deduction from the mandatory dues. The Keller case was one of the first chinks in the armor of the unified bar.


    So, as the State Bar of California now boldly goes where no California bar association has ever been before (sorry, Trekkies, for mangling the introduction to the original series) I and other lawyers of similar vintage may not be around to see how this shape-shifting experiment turns out. It hopefully will not be any worse than what has come before.


     Jill Switzer has been an active member of the State Bar of California for 40 years. She remembers practicing law in a kinder, gentler time. She’s had a diverse legal career, including stints as a deputy district attorney, a solo practice, and several senior in-house gigs. She now mediates full-time, which gives her the opportunity to see dinosaurs, millennials, and those in-between interact — it’s not always civil.



  • 10/19/2017 8:32 AM | Denise Bashline (Administrator)

    ABA Journal News

    October 18, 2017

    By Debra Cassens Weiss


     California Wildfire

    California National Guard photo.



    Fire victims in eight Northern California counties who can’t afford a lawyer can call a new hotline to receive free legal assistance.


    The hotline number is 415-575-3120, according to a press release (PDF) and the Napa Valley Register.


    The ABA’s Young Lawyers Division is operating the hotline in partnership with the Federal Emergency Management Agency, the Bay Area Resilience Collaborative and the Legal Aid Association of California.


    The hotline is currently available to survivors of fires in Butte, Lake, Mendocino, Napa, Nevada, Orange, Sonoma and Yuba counties.


    Callers to the hotline can get help with FEMA and other government benefits, home repair contracts, replacement of wills and other legal documents, consumer protection issues, mortgage-foreclosure problems, and landlord-tenant problems.


    Two other hotline numbers are also available. Napa County residents can call the Bay Area Legal Aid Legal Advice Hotline at 800-551-5554. Residents of Napa and Sonoma Counties can call the Health Care Consumer Center at 855-693-7285 for help with Medi-Cal and medical insurance coverage issues.


    The ABA Young Lawyers Division has developed similar hotlines for the individuals affected the recent hurricanes.




  • 10/19/2017 8:30 AM | Denise Bashline (Administrator)

    East Bay Times

    October 17, 2017

    By Nate Gartrell


     San Francisco police officer Richard Hastings appears in Judge Bruce Mills courtroom in Dept. 29 of Bray courthouse Martinez, Calif., Monday, Jan. 27, 2014. Hastings has been accused of molesting boys in Concord. San Francisco attorney Eileen Burke is representing Hastings. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group)

    Judge Bruce C. Mills was charged with willful misconduct and could be removed from the bench. (Susan Tripp Pollard/Bay Area News Group  


    MARTINEZ — A Contra Costa judge with a history of ethics violations was charged with judicial misconduct that could warrant his removal from the bench, records obtained Tuesday show.


    The two counts of misconduct include allegations that Judge Bruce C. Mills illegally doubled the sentence of a judicial rights advocate who Mills had found to be in contempt of court. Mills jailed the man for discussing his divorce online, a decision that First Amendment experts called, “outrageous” and a free speech violation.


    The two charges were filed Friday by the Commission on Judicial Performance, the California government body that investigates ethical complaints into judges. Mills is required to provide a written answer to the charges within 20 days.


    Per the California Constitution, Mills faces removal or admonishment if the charges are found true. The CJP’s action carries no criminal penalties. Mills could not be reached for comment.


    Mills, a judge since 1995, has been disciplined five times since 2001. He was admonished in 2013 after the commision found 10-0 that he had “created an appearance of impropriety that undermined public confidence in the impartiality and integrity of the judiciary” when he interfered with a case in which his son was a defendant. In 2001, he was found to have coerced a guilty plea out of a DUI defendant.


    Last year, Mills sentenced San Ramon resident Joseph Sweeney to 25 days in jail for contempt, after finding that Sweeney’s online writings violated another judge’s restraining order not to disclose the contents of his ex-wife’s cellphone or computer. But Sweeney argued that his writings were sourced from publicly-available court documents filed by his ex-wife.


    In the hearing, Mills claimed that “matters that are put into court pleadings and brought up in oral argument before the court do not become public thereby,” a statement several First Amendment experts say wildly misstates the nature of court records.


    According to the hearing transcript, Mills also made it clear that Sweeney’s 25-day sentence — the maximum for five counts of contempt of court — qualified for 50 percent good time credits, meaning Sweeney would likely only serve half his sentence. Under state law, people convicted of nonviolent crimes are set free after serving half their sentences, assuming they have no disciplinary problems.


    But days later, after Sweeney was in the West Contra Costa Jail, Mills allegedly directed a court clerk to modify the sentence and revoke Sweeney’s good time credits. The CJP alleges Mills did so without notifying the parties in the case or giving them time to respond, a violation of ethics guidelines.


    When Sweeney found out his good time credits had been revoked, he contacted his attorney, Jim Morrison, from jail. In a 2016 interview, Morrison said he faxed the copy of the original order — which said Sweeney would serve 50 percent time — to the sheriff and to Mills. Sweeney’s good time credits were reinstated later that day, Morrison said.


    Ironically, Sweeney is a well-known judicial reform advocate who has publicly criticized the commission’s handling of judicial misconduct cases. He testified in front of the state legislature last year, calling for a state audit of the CJP. Mills jailed Sweeney two days after the legislature approved the audit.


    “Finally, (the CJP) feels pressured to be doing something about judicial misconduct, which is a good indication,” Sweeney said in an interview Tuesday when asked for a response to the action against Mills.


    After his release from jail, Sweeney filed multiple complaints against Mills and appealed the judge’s decision. Last November he received a response from then-presiding Judge Steve Austin, who said that altering the order was improper, but suggested that Mills simply didn’t know he’d violated a rule.


    “I view this as a training issue and not as something more serious as you have described it in your letter,” Austin wrote. “I have taken appropriate corrective action.”


    Similarly, the Contra Costa District Attorney’s Office reviewed the matter and determined Mills hadn’t committed a crime, chief deputy Doug MacMaster wrote in a letter to Sweeney last year.


    The second misconduct charge alleges Mills had a courtroom conversation with the prosecutor in a DUI case Mills was presiding over, where the two discussed the case. During the conversation, Mills compared the case to one he handled as a prosecutor and suggested that someone may have to look into whether breathalyzer systems were faulty.


     “You did not disclose on the record your conversation with (the prosecutor) or recuse yourself from further proceedings in the case until April 1, 2016, after the district attorney’s office disclosed the ex parte conversation to a supervising judge and to defense counsel,” CJP Chairperson Hon. Ignazio Ruvolo wrote in the charging records.




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