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COURT: Santa Clara County Superior ELECTED: March 2000; appointed early, in May 2000, by Gov. Gray Davis to a vacant seat DATE OF BIRTH: 1961 LAW SCHOOL: Santa Clara University School of Law, 1987 PREVIOUS JUDICIAL EXPERIENCE: None SAN JOSE — It was the third month of a high-profile telemarketing fraud trial, and Santa Clara County Superior Court Judge Paul Bernal was facing a critical juncture. Bernal charged San Francisco lawyer Peter Furst — the attorney for principal defendant Armand Tiano — with contempt for asking prohibited questions. Attorneys had to meet outside of the jury late one May afternoon to decide when to vet the charges. Although Bernal seemed testy at times, he eventually agreed to give Furst’s attorney time to read transcripts and prepare his defense. The contempt charge is pending. Attorneys say those concessions were necessary to keep the Tiano trial moving. The case — with its scores of lawyers and volumes of evidence — is expected to last until late this fall. It has also received ample publicity because Tiano is a former Santa Clara County Sheriff’s lieutenant Bernal, who has forgone vacation this year, will be on the bench every day until it concludes. Former colleagues say the young jurist is a good fit for the case. But that doesn’t mean it’s not extraordinarily demanding for the four-year judge, who also handles writs and sexually violent predator cases when his schedule allows. “Under normal circumstances, you must balance the stress of being a judge with other life duties. When you are in a year-long trial, the balancing is obviously more challenging,” Bernal said in a recent e-mail interview. “I try to separate work from home life, but when you have a trial with six defendants with competing constitutional rights, nine attorneys, 350 potential witnesses, 180,000 pages of exhibits, and you go ‘bell to bell’ with daily testimony, much of the legal research and order-writing has to be done on my own time,” Bernal said. The result: Bernal must set aside “family time” each night and on weekends. “This is where I find most of my stress relief,” he said. Bernal, 43, considered journalism but decided to pursue law — in part because a family friend and lawyer, Salvador Liccardo, let him read legal briefs during vacations. Bernal graduated from Loyola Marymount University in 1984 and Santa Clara University School of Law in 1987. He worked as a summer associate in civil litigation with Bodkin, McCarthy, Sargent & Smith in Los Angeles in 1986. Bernal then joined Littler Mendelson in San Jose where he was an employment law specialist from 1987 to 1989. He moved closer to the courthouse when he joined the Santa Clara district attorney’s office in 1989. He was a prosecutor for 11 years. During that time, colleagues thought his love of the courtroom would make him a good judge. “His attitude was always very positive and very ‘can do,’” said Assistant District Attorney Karyn Sinunu. “It was always easy to work with him. He has a generous spirit, and is a pleasant judge to appear before because of that. “A lot of what a judge has to do is set a certain tone in court, and we felt he had the right judicial temperament,” Sinunu said. “His demeanor on the bench is quite serious and appropriately so but that shouldn’t negate the fact that he is a very positive person.” Bernal was elected in March 2000 but in May of that year was appointed early by former Gov. Gray Davis to fill a vacant seat. Attorneys say Bernal can be temperamental but praise his work ethic. “He’s not unwilling to take on difficult cases and not the type that’s quick to leave on a Friday afternoon,” said Deputy Public Defender Andrea Flint, who added that she always found Bernal pleasant and affable. Flint’s main criticism of Bernal is that he sometimes does not disclose the reasoning behind his decisions. “When a judge is willing to cite a decision, it shows a real level of confidence and security, and Bernal has been unwilling to state his reasoning on the record,” she said. Bernal says hard work is a big reason he became a judge at a relatively young age. And he still relishes being part of a big criminal case. “When you have nine attorneys, stipulations are rare, and each attorney presents the same set of facts and laws from their different perspectives,” Bernal said of the Tiano trial. “For me, this requires a lot of critical focus, quick thinking and precise research.” Bernal said establishing ground rules before a trial keeps things moving. He has a pre-printed set of in limine questions and issues that he provides to attorneys in every case. “I create an atmosphere where every possible issue will be sorted out methodically before the trial begins,” Bernal said. “The attorneys are permitted to change the parameters to suit their needs, but the details and motions are outlined before the jury comes in.” The history buff is also involved in the Bench & Bar Historical Society of Santa Clara County and is an eighth-generation Bay Area resident. At this point, though, his concerns are firmly rooted in the present and his job. “A judge’s respect for the office lets litigants know that their case is as important to the judge as it is to the litigant,” Bernal said.

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