|A life-long resident of Maryland, Marielsa Althea Bernard is a Senior Judge of the Circuit Court for Montgomery County, Maryland and is the first judge of Hispanic descent in the history of Montgomery County. She was appointed to the District Court in September 1998 and elevated to the Circuit Court in March 2002. She had been an attorney in general practice for more than 17 years focusing on criminal, civil, immigration, and family law.
Judge Bernard is one of the founding members of the Maryland Hispanic Bar Association (MHBA) and served as its second President. During her tenure, she initiated and organized a program of pro bono fairs that won the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA) People's Pro Bono Award as well as the MSBA Best Service to the Public Award. She continued to serve on MHBA's Board for many years.
Following the tragic death of her daughter Katheryn (Kate) in December 2014 from an opiate overdose, Judge Bernard reached out to other mothers who had suffered a similar loss and started a weekly support group, S.O.U.L. (Surviving Our Ultimate Loss). In 2016 Judge Bernard planned the first Montgomery County International Overdose Awareness Day "Ceremony of Remembrance," which was sponsored initially by S.O.U.L. This annual event has grown to include the co-sponsorship of both the Montgomery County Government and the Montgomery County Circuit Court Adult Drug Court.
Her long history of leadership on behalf of women and girls includes serving for three years as the initial Chair of the Montgomery County Domestic Violence Coordinating Council (DVCC) where among other programs she started "Choose Respect Montgomery," a teen dating violence educational awareness project that has grown to include presentations in middle and high schools as well as an annual conference. She also started a fatherhood initiative that featured a county-wide parenting conference for fathers. Judge Bernard also chaired the Montgomery County Steering Committee of the 2014 Interfaith Domestic Violence Initiative through the Maryland Governor's Office of Community Initiatives.
She was a member of the Hispanic/Latino Advisory Group to the Montgomery County Executive and past Vice-President of the Hispanic Alliance. She did extensive pro bono work for the East Takoma Park Silver Spring Community Center, the Spanish Catholic Center, and St. Camillus Parish. Judge Bernard initiated and has continued working for almost 20 years with the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ) Storybook Project in the Maryland Correctional Institution for Women helping incarcerated mothers read and record stories for their children to maintain the bond between mother and child until the family can be reunited.
Judge Bernard has held leadership positions on the Maryland State Bar Association including Chair of the Hispanic-Latino Lawyers Committee, and a two-year stint as Co-Chair of the MSBA Leadership Academy. A member of the Montgomery County Bar Association, the National Association of Women Judges, and the Women's Bar Association of Montgomery County, she initiated the Latina Youth Empowerment Conference and the Take-Your-Daughter-to-Work-Day Program, sponsoring "at-risk" high school students. She is a Fellow of both the Maryland State Bar and the Montgomery County Bar Foundations. She served on the Public Trust and Confidence in the Maryland Judicial System Committee, the Business and Technology Task Force, and the Commission on Racial and Ethnic Bias. Judge Bernard has had a Martindale-Hubbell rating of AV Preeminent Jurist for many years.
We often hear rhetoric about children being our most precious resource, but unfortunately, those words are all too often empty. We cannot continue to put the needs of our children last on our list of priorities.
Biography courtesy of the Maryland Commission for Women, 2019.
© Copyright Maryland State Archives, 2019