SAN FRANCISCO -- The California Commission on Judicial Performance is deliberating whether to discipline Contra Costa County Superior Court Judge Bruce Mills for allegedly abusing his power in the handling of his minor son's tobacco-possession case.

Mills, 55, is not facing removal from the bench but rather a public admonishment that would be his second such disciplinary action since he was appointed a judge in 1995.

The commission instituted formal proceedings against Mills in January over an off-the-record, in-chambers discussion about his son's case that he had with a pro tem commissioner at the Walnut Creek courthouse in October 2011.

Such communications in uncontested, juvenile matters are not illegal for the average person, but a commission examiner argued Wednesday that Mills "took advantage of his position as a judge" and created an appearance of accepting preferential treatment when he accepted an invitation to discuss his son's case without having gone through formal channels.

"We believe that a public admonishment would address the misconduct by Judge Mills in this matter," commission examiner Gary Schons, told a panel consisting of judges, attorneys and members of the public.

After Mills' son was cited for tobacco possession by Moraga police in October 2010, the boy pleaded guilty to an infraction and was ordered to complete 20 hours of volunteer work. But the boy didn't do the work because within days of receiving his sentence, he entered into 10 months of treatment programs out of state.

The court ordered a hearing on the Mills boy's failure to comply with the community service order, and Judge Mills intended for his attorney to appear, explain about the treatment programs and ask that it count as community service hours.

But Mills' attorney had a last-minute conflict and couldn't appear in court, so Mills notified a court clerk, who told him to come to the commissioner's office at 1:30 p.m. before her afternoon calendar. Mills said he had not requested any action by the commissioner before she asked to see proof of his son's treatment program and decided that it indeed counted as community service.

"Yes, I think there was a problem with what I did," Mills told the panel Wednesday.

Three jurists who have previously reviewed the facts surrounding the complaint against Mills already ruled that Mills made an error in judgment, but he was acting "in good faith" and committed no misconduct, Mills' attorney, James Murphy, said.

"He asked for no favors and really didn't get any favors," Murphy said.

Mills was privately admonished by the Commission of Judicial Performance in 2001 for ignoring a defendant's request for counsel and attempting to coerce him into pleading guilty. He was publicly admonished in 2006 for having improper communications with a defendant and an attorney in a 1997 misdemeanor case, and for "a pattern of making comments that are discourteous, sarcastic, demeaning and belittling to those appearing before him."

That past discipline is relevant, Schons argued, and shows that Mills has a pattern of "cutting corners."

The commission is expected to decide in writing within 90 days of Wednesday's hearing. Mills has the option of appealing its decision to the state Supreme Court.

Contact Malaika Fraley at 925-234-1694. Follow her at Twitter.com/malaikafraley.