The Hon. Brenda Fay Harbin-Forte is a judge for the Alameda County Superior Court in California. She was originally appointed to the Oakland-Piedmont-Emeryville Municipal Court by former Governor Pete Wilson in 1992. She was subsequently elevated to the Superior Court as a result of the court's unification in 1998.
Judge Harbin-Forte received her bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1976. She went on to earn her J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law in 1979.
After clerking for the Hon. Dorothy Nelson with the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit, Harbin-Forte began her legal career in private practice. She was serving as a partner for the erstwhile Thelen, Marrin, Johnson, and Bridges prior to becoming a settlement commissioner for the Alameda County Superior Court in 1990. While in private practice, Harbin-Forte practiced complex civil litigation.
Two years later, Harbin-Forte was appointed to the Municipal Court.
While on the bench, Judge Harbin-Forte has presided over civil jury trials, the drug court, the juvenile court, and felony arraignments. She has also served as the supervising judge of the Settlement Department at the George E. McDonald Hall of Justice.
Judge Harbin-Forte has devoted her time on the bench to serve as an advocate for judicial diversity. She was chair of the Courts Working Group of the State Bar's Diversity Pipeline Task Force and was also instrumental in implementing a diversity summit in California in 2006. The awareness raised by the summit would play a key role in the passing of future legislation supporting her cause, which included the requirement of annual demographic reports. She also served as chair of the California State Bar's Council on Access & Fairness.
Among her judicial and professional accomplishments, Judge Harbin-Forte can also include being the first woman to serve as presiding judge of the Alameda County Juvenile Court, she was the first African American woman to serve as Dean of the B.E. Witkin Judicial College, and the first African American woman to serve as president of the Alameda County Bar Association. During her time as presiding judge for the Juvenile Court, Judge Harbin-Forte established the first Adoption Day in 2000. She was also instrumental in helping to establish the Minors in Prostitution Task Force, a program that offers multi-agency support to at-risk juvenile girls.
Her other memberships have included serving as past-president of the Black Women Lawyers of Northern California, and a board member of the UC Berkeley School of Law's Center for Youth Development Through Law.
Her awards include the Diversity Award from the State Bar of California, the Hall of Fame Award from the Charles Houston Bar Association, the Woman Jurist of Distinction Award from the Women Lawyers of Alameda County, the Judge of the Year Award from the Juvenile Court Judges, and the Rose Bird Memorial Award from the California Women Lawyers, just to name a few.