Although Judge Linda Lye, 45, was officially appointed a Contra Costa superior court judge in late November by Governor Jerry Brown, an appointment during the holiday season is close enough to the New Year to count. Lye was named as a replacement for the notorious Judge Bruce C. Mills, a man barred in August 2018 from ever returning to the bench by the state Commission on Judicial Performance (CJP).
Mills wisely decided to retire before the CJP could formally remove him. Between 2001 and 2013, Mills was found to have engaged in misconduct five times, and subsequent allegations were the last straw. While most retired judges can return to court as substitutes when active judges are on vacation or taken ill, or serve as judicial officers, that's not the case with former judge Bruce Mills.
Mills' won't be wearing judicial robes again – the most serious punishment the CJP could hand out.
Mills Had Three Misconduct Cases in 2016
Mills beat his personal misconduct record in 2016. He was found to have had an improper conversation with a prosecutor during a DUI trial, and then put a man in jail for 25 days for contempt of court for blogging about a divorce case. Mills made the decision based on a previous judge's order that the man should not disclose personal information about his ex-wife.
During the sentencing, Mills said the man would serve only half of his sentence based on good behavior credits which the man was entitled to under the law. However, after the man was incarcerated, Mills revoked his good behavior credits outside of a court hearing. When the man's attorney complained, Mills did an about-face and restored the good behavior credits. The CJP determined in 2018 that Mills' actions in this matter weren't a matter of correcting a mistake, but of changing the sentence.
Protect the Public and Maintain Public Confidence
In its 23-page decision, the CJP states that Mills' permanent barring was necessary “to protect the public and maintain public confidence in the integrity and impartiality of the judiciary.” The CJP stated that Mills was likely to engage in additional misconduct if he were to remain on the bench since he failed to appreciate the impropriety of his conduct and lacked candor as he had “shifting explanations” regarding his conduct.
Lye's Ties to the ACLU and Ruth Bader Ginsberg
Lye, a Berkeley resident, arrives on the bench after serving as a senior attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), where she was an expert in government surveillance and privacy law. Before that, she worked in private practice, but also served as a clerk for another “notorious” person, Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, known to admirers as the “Notorious RBG.”
Lye earned her undergraduate degree from Yale and earned her law degree from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law. Because Lye is new to the bench, there was hope that she would restore public confidence in her courtroom that was so badly damaged by her predecessor. However, early word is that she is quick to deny defense motions, and despite her history of battling against the clearly unconstitutional stingray surveillance devices, she wasted no time in shooting down defense motions right and left upon taking the bench.
Defense motions are important because they serve as a check on prosecutorial power and law enforcement corruption. If judges summarily deny defense motions, they are preventing accountability and that undermines our American concepts of fairness and justice.