2001 JUDICIAL BLUNDER
OF THE YEAR AWARD
by the National
Coalition For Family Justice of California, Inc.
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
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
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
Marjorie Mardis, Esq.
National Coalition For Family Justice of California, Inc.