by the National Coalition For Family Justice of California, Inc.

Sometimes even we are shocked when we learn of the outrageous behavior of the Santa Clara County Family Law bench, but

described below were so outrageous that we feel compelled to establish in his honor the annual "Judicial Blunder of the Year" award for family court.

During the summer of last year, a parent filed a motion to remove the court-appointed attorney for the minor, Miki Minzer. At the hearing on the motion, Judge Bernal did not permit the parent's attorney to question Miki Minzer but instead, Judge Bernal took Minzer and her counsel, Liz Goodley (that's right, she had hired her own attorney!) into his chambers and met ex parte with them for approximately 45 minutes. Judge Bernal refused to allow either the parents or their counsel to be present, and, unbelievably, although a court reporter was present in chambers, Judge Bernal has denied all requests for a copy of the transcript.

As Minzer's counsel Goodley was exiting the meeting, she was observed giving the thumbs up sign to the other parent (the one who didn't want Minzer removed from the case) and stating that "it went really well.".

This is a case that we have followed for over two years. We have reviewed the documents in this case, and have had observers in court during hearings, including the hearing on this motion. After the hearing Judge Bernal issued a written order denying the motion to remove minor's counsel, and it is obvious from the content of that order that his decision was based on whatever had been said during the ex parte communications in his chambers. There were at least three specific issues/comments in Bernal's order which contained information that had not been set forth in either the moving or responding papers or at the hearing in open court (or at any other time in the case, for that matter).

Judge Bernal's written order was so scathing that it actually rivaled some of now retired Judge James Stewart's nastier orders. One can only wonder what misrepresentations Minzer and Goodley made to Judge Bernal to cause him to issue such an order. And if that wasn't enough wrath to impart on a litigant, and as if holding an ex parte communication in chambers, refusing the litigant the opportunity to defend against whatever information was provided in secret or to challenge possible false and/or misleading information isn't bad enough, it gets worse. Judge Bernal not only ordered the litigant to pay Minzer's attorney's fees as "additional child support" (which is absolutely, positively NOT allowed under the law), he also ordered the litigant to pay the fees of Minzer's counsel as "additional child support!" Oh, and they were to be paid by wage assignment.

We know that there are going to be certain individuals who are going to be upset by this award and there will be many more who will applaud it, but the point that should be the most important to remember is this judge violated the law and denied litigant's their right to due process as guaranteed under the United States Constitution. This judge is a public servant, appointed or elected to serve the very public he violated. No one made him do this, he did it all by himself.

So before anyone expresses either outrage or joy at this Announcement, they should first remember this judge did not do the right thing and he then went on to unfairly and improperly attack this litigant in his order. Everyone has a bad day, even judges, but when he was offered the opportunity to correct his mistakes, he refused. We are all told when we are children that if you don't want to get in trouble and get caught, then don't do it. Judge Bernal did it and he got caught and the only person anyone should be upset with is Judge Bernal, including himself.

Thank you,

Kathleen Justi
Marjorie Mardis, Esq.
Maria Duncan
Stan Sexton
Executive Committee
National Coalition For Family Justice of California, Inc.


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