Chief Justice Presents Award for Judicial Excellence to Judge Scott Bernstein
Eleventh Judicial Circuit Judge Scott M. Bernstein is the 2019 recipient of the Chief Justice Award for Judicial Excellence, honoring his service to and leadership within Florida’s judicial branch. Chief Justice Charles T. Canady presented the award to Judge Bernstein during a ceremony at the Conference of Circuit Court Judges of Florida. Said to be “no stranger to blazing trails,” Judge Bernstein is appreciated for “his intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge.” He is especially known for his efforts to improve the quality of the judiciary—both for court users and for the people who work in the courts system.
Judge Scott Bernstein, who was elected to the Eleventh Circuit bench in 1998, is universally regarded by his peers as “a judge's judge: a scholar, a leader, and an advocate for justice.” Said to be “no stranger to blazing trails,” Judge Bernstein is appreciated for “his intellectual curiosity and thirst for knowledge.” He is especially known for his efforts to improve the quality of the judiciary—both for court users and for the people who work in the courts system. His colleagues observe that “Florida is blessed with many good judges and some great judges. Then there are those few who are both great judges and great humanitarians. Scott Bernstein is one of those select few.”
In the letters nominating him for the Judicial Excellence Award, Judge Bernstein is regularly extolled for his tireless and innovative leadership, which he embodies with “clarity of vision, decisiveness, courage, passion, and humility.” As one letter writer notes, he “implemented a case management system in the Juvenile Delinquency Division, which shortened the time before cases came to trial. He took over the Dependency Drug Court when it was desperately looking for a champion and made the court flourish. He jumped into a felony criminal division faced with a five-month death penalty case and brought a sense of calm control despite high media attention.” He is also credited with having “designed many different court improvement projects to make judges more efficient.” Indeed, “He brought Family Court into the 21st century,” another letter writer exclaims: “Scott conducts regular town hall meetings with family law practitioners to hear constructive criticism about our operations. He improved systems in the court, both big a small. He initiated the use of technology to calendar our cases, set hearings, and sign court orders. He brought the e-courtesy system into the Family Division, which allows orders to be signed and emailed electronically. He put on countless trainings for judges, case managers, judicial assistants, bailiffs, and clerks to improve court operations. He pioneered technology to allow videoconferencing during hearings, making it possible for even distant players to participate. He trains judges coming into the Family Division about unique areas of the law. He gives practical tips on how to write court orders, how to handle difficult mental health and drug use issues, and how to keep the focus on the needs of children. And he does all this with grace.”
In addition to his countless crusades to improve court processes, Judge Bernstein is esteemed for his “commitment to the betterment of his fellow judges.” This commitment manifests in an abundance of ways, but the three on which the nomination letters most ardently focus are court fairness and diversity, judicial education, and judicial wellness.
Judge Bernstein is “recognized as a leader in court fairness,” his peers say. Through his work on the supreme court’s Standing Committee on Fairness and Diversity, for example, he launched an “inexhaustible endeavor to deliver diversity training to all judges and court staff throughout the state of Florida.” He also “assisted with the development of policies and practices throughout the state that enhanced the fair and unbiased administration of justice in our courts,” they emphasize.
Because of his efforts to improve and expand judicial training and education opportunities and offerings, Judge Bernstein is also considered a “leader in judicial education.” As one of his colleagues explains, “Few have done as much for the education of Florida judges as Judge Bernstein. He was Education Chair of the Circuit Conference from 2007 through 2012. He has taught at the Circuit Conference, County Conference, College of Advanced Judicial Studies, Florida Judicial College, and National Judicial College. He is also an instructor training judges to teach other judges.” Adds another, “He actively mentors judges who are newly appointed or elected to our bench and is readily available to all of us to talk through troublesome issues that we all confront from time to time.”
On top of all this, Judge Bernstein conceived and helped to establish the Florida Judicial Wellness Program, which his peers describe as “a program to help his fellow colleagues challenged by the negative impact that comes from the work we do day to day.” They credit him with having “recognized that judges desperately needed a resource by which they could seek help with issues that impair their ability to adequately perform their duties. As a result, he then envisioned a statewide program solely for judges that would operate as a separate and private means for judges to get the help they may need.” Launched in 2018, this program is deemed “an invaluable source for wellness to our Florida judicial branch.”
The letters nominating him for the Judicial Excellence Award all agree that Judge Bernstein “personifies judicial excellence.” “Throughout my professional career, as an attorney since 1991, and as a judge since 2006, I have met only a few individuals as motivated and committed to helping improve the court system and its judges as much as Judge Scott Bernstein. He is deserving of this recognition,” says one letter writer. “I cannot think of a judge more deserving of this honor. Working with Scott Bernstein has been one of the great privileges of my privileged professional life,” adds another. Summing it all up, another underscores, “Judge Bernstein is one of the best of our best. He is an inspiration to other judges.”