The Honorable Brenda Fay Harbin-Forte

Alameda County Superior Court, Department retired

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Biography

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. Six years later, she was elevated to the Alameda County Supreme Court as a result of the court’s unification. Harbin-Forte retired from the bench in 2019.

Over the course of her judicial career, Judge Harbin-Forte presided over civil jury trials, the drug court, the juvenile court, and felony arraignments. She served as the supervising judge of the Settlement Department at the George E. McDonald Hall of Justice. She 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.

She devoted her time on the bench to service 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.

Harbin-Forte received her bachelor's degree from the University of California, Berkeley in 1976. Then, in 1979, she completed a J.D. from the University of California, Berkeley School of Law.

She began her legal career as a law clerk for the Hon. Dorothy Nelson of the United States Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit. She then entered into private practice, working as a partner for the erstwhile Thelen, Marrin, Johnson, and Bridges. During this time, she specialized in complex civil litigation, eventually leaving to become a settlement commissioner for the Alameda County Superior Court in 1990.

Harbin-Forte was the first woman to serve as presiding judge of the Alameda County Juvenile Court; 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. Her memberships have included the Black Women Lawyers of Northern California and the Board 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.

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