Judge Heard Tree-Sit Case, Left Legacy in Family Law

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Barbara Miller, the Alameda County Superior Court judge who presided over the controversial decision last year to build an athletic training center near Memorial Stadium, was found dead in her Oakland home Friday. She was 58.

Miller was found at about 6:15 p.m. and pronounced dead at home, according to Oakland Police Department Officer Jeff Thomason. Oakland homicide investigators are examining the incident, but a cause of death has not been determined, pending an autopsy.

Dan Grimmer, presiding judge of family law for Alameda County Superior Court, said Miller had been very ill and had missed some time in court, but did not know more about her illness.

Miller was elected to the Alameda County Superior Court in 1996, after serving as a commissioner and lawyer.

Although not considered Miller's most significant achievement, her highest-profile case centered on UC Berkeley's plan to build an athletic training center next to Memorial Stadium in an area occupied by oak trees.

The city of Berkeley and two other parties sued UC Berkeley to prevent the construction, and the case drew national attention because of protesters who lived in the trees for 649 days. Miller ruled in favor of the campus and the trees were cut down in September 2008.

Alameda County Superior Court Judge Paul Seeman said the fact that Miller was given such a high-profile case speaks to how well she was regarded.

Grimmer added that Miller's decision to ask both sides for more evidence showed her commitment to the case.

"She was never afraid, she had a lot of fortitude," he said. "She was very intelligent and always was one who took her time and never made rash decisions."

Aside from the athletic center, Miller left a lasting legacy in family law.

According to Carole Raimondi, an attorney who appeared in front of Miller many times, Miller helped give domestic violence victims increased access to support services, one of many changes she brought to domestic violence law.

"She was a real innovator, she pioneered a lot of really ground-breaking programs," Seeman said.

Miller served as an inspiration to female judges as the first female presiding judge of the united Alameda County Superior Court, according to Raimondi.

Aside from her professional accomplishments, Seeman said Miller will be remembered as a personable leader with a unique collaborative approach.

"She was a fabulous person, you would ask her for help and she'd give it to you, it didn't matter what her schedule was, she'd go out of her way to give it to you," Grimmer said. "I thought of her as a friend in addition to a colleague."


Amy Brooks is the city news editor. Contact her at [email protected]

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