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July 06, 2021 National Conference of Specialized Court Judges

National Judicial College: Serving on the Board of Trustees

By Hon. Margarita Bernal, (Ret.), Tucson, AZ

As ABA members, we have the honor and privilege of serving on various committees, boards, and organizations on behalf of the ABA conferences. As a member of the ABA National Conference of Specialized Courts Judges, I have had the honor as serving as the liaison to the National Judicial College (NJC), Board of Trustees since 2018. The need to collaborate and encourage, judicial education during this unique time of pandemic, is more critical to the help continue the excellence of the teaching of the NJC.  My connection to the college has been over three decades, so my ABA liaison job was an amazing luck of fate. 

At the time of my original appointment  in 1986, Arizona and many states sent their new judges to the NJC for initial training to those new on the bench. I was fortunate enough to attend, within months of my appointment and I never needed it more. The two weeks in Reno, Nevada, proved to be instrumental to my understanding my new role as a judge, helping me with the transition from advocate, trial lawyer to the trier of the facts, the judge. I made lifelong friends and colleagues who became dear friends, mentors, and fellow faculty at the NJC. I soon became faculty for 25 consecutive years in one of the premier judicial education institutions of our country.

The National Judicial College was created, with the aid and assistance of the ABA back in 1968. It was first located in Boulder, Colorado being the brainchild of several judges who knew that there had to be a unique and dedicated institution to the education and betterment of American judges. NJC was one of the first to be dedicated primarily to judges; other institutions were eventually created to help specialize some of the educational and research, geared for juvenile judges, federal judges and other  institutions such as the National Center for State Courts. Each institution has its unique direction and purpose to assist our judges and countless international judges, who have graced our shores, and have experienced the unique and prestige example of American democracy.  NJC has created many significant international and distance courses that benefit many judicial officers from many countries who are developing and experiencing the implementation of the “rule of law” in their home countries

One of the best experiences of NJC is the ability to pick up the phone or email to speak with a fellow classmate, judge, fellow faculty and to discuss an issue causing me to determine the best course of action. Many times, new ethical or procedural issues confront you on the bench and you must make a reasoned and clear decision. Just speaking with a fellow judge from another state or local juris would provide, clarity and direction.

I have been honored to serve as Board of Trustee Liaison for the ABA National Conference of Specialized Court Judges since 2018. Recently, in September 2021, I was intimately involved with the development and creation of the “Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg Lecture”. It was a celebration of the life and legal impact of Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg, with one of her first law clerks, as the honored speaker: Professor Deborah Jones Merritt, Distinguished professor Ohio State University College of Law  (who also clerked for Justice Sandra Day O’Connor) . This  inaugural annual lecture series included video tributes from her Supreme Court colleague Justice Stephen Breyer, and seven female state Supreme Court Justices . As we celebrated her birthday on March 15, 2021 , more than 646 participants joined  us in celebration of Justice Ginsburg’s legacy. Next year’s feature speaker will be California Supreme Court Associate Court Justice Goodwin Liu, who served as a law clerk for RBG in 2000.  I was honored to serve as the chair of this working group, and along with  ABA  and  Board of Trustee member Dercee Siegel and ABA member, Board of Visitor  Judge Sophia Hall,  and BOT Hon Leslie Hayashi.    It was a pleasure to create this working group and concept, and I am thrilled to continue as chair of this lecture series.

I would refer you to the NJC website, , to read President Bene Aldana’s report.  The successful transition to adapting to the limitations caused by the pandemic to  in-person classes was critical  to the successful survival  of  NJC . The College had long developed and understood the importance of distance learning and it was clearly the key to the success year we have all experienced!

The work of the NJC continues in earnest, and we are truly honored to have fellow ABA Judicial Division member Judge Chris Whitten, (a fellow Arizonan) as chair of the Board of Trustees. Under his leadership and the stewardship of President Benes Aldana, Provost Joy Lyngar  (and  the amazing staff) , NJC has endured and survived a truly unique and challenging year. I will be honored to continue to represent the ABA JD division on the Board of Trustees and will continue to celebrate its amazing goal:  to serve and educate our judiciary. Please help us continue the work of NJC with your support.