Whitney Z. Bernstein is an aggressive litigator and accomplished trial attorney with a track record for achieving success for her clients when the odds are against them. She has spent her career successfully defending felony and misdemeanor criminal offenses, leading companies in internal investigations to prevent litigation, and representing companies and individuals in contract and business tort claims and employment litigation. Whitney is a credible, tireless, and respected advocate who has tried numerous felony and misdemeanor federal and state jury trials. 

In addition to Whitney’s considerable courtroom and trial experience, she has drafted and argued countless suppression and discovery violation motions, negotiated favorable dispositions for her clients, and obtained numerous dismissals of charges. Whitney takes a very hands-on approach by involving herself in all aspects of case management, investigation, discovery, depositions, interviews, negotiations, and trial preparation. She also has successfully argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals regarding interpretation and application of federal immigration laws.

Whitney’s outstanding results and reputation have earned her recognition by Chambers USA as a top litigator in White-Collar Crime and Government Investigations.  She was named the Best Lawyers “Lawyer of the Year” for Criminal Defense: General Practice in Orange County in 2023 and has been recognized by Best Lawyers for her work in White Collar Criminal Defense since 2021. The Daily Journal, California’s leading legal newspaper, selected Whitney as one of the Top 40 under 40 lawyers in California in 2023 and Top White Collar Lawyers in California for 2022. Super Lawyers® has recognized Whitney as a “Rising Star” every year since 2020, a distinction bestowed on no more than 2.5 percent of attorneys in any state.  The National Trial Lawyers also named Whitney as one of the Top 40 Under 40 Defense Trial Lawyers in 2021 and 2022 for her demonstrated superior qualifications, leadership skills, and trial results. 

Outside of the courtroom, Whitney is very involved in her community. She trains federal criminal defense practitioners at the local and national level and proudly serves as a Lawyer Representative for the Southern District of California, on the executive board for the Women’s White Collar Defense Association’s Los Angeles Chapter, on the board for the Federal Bar Association’s Orange County Chapter, as a member of the First Amendment Lawyers Association, and as the co-chair of the San Diego Cornell Alumni Admissions Ambassador Network.  Previously, Whitney served on the inaugural Advisory Board to the San Diego County Probation Department Chief.

Prior to joining Bienert Katzman Littrell Williams LLP, Whitney was a trial lawyer for the Federal Defenders of San Diego, Inc. Before that, she was a trial lawyer for Brooklyn Defender Services in Brooklyn, New York. She graduated from the University of Pennsylvania Law School earning her Juris Doctor and simultaneously earning her Master of Science in Criminology from the University of Pennsylvania Department of Criminology. As an undergraduate at Cornell University where she earned her Bachelor of Arts in Government and Sociology with a concentration in Law and Society, she graduated with Distinction in All Subjects, Dean’s List, and was an active volunteer in the local community as a firefighter and teacher inside prisons.

Representative Matters

  • Represented individuals and companies in matters being investigated by the Department of Justice and the Securities and Exchange Commission.
  • Defended prominent private company in class action lawsuit.
  • Represented high net worth individual in civil lawsuit arising out of an estate dispute.
  • Secured a single misdemeanor and no jail time resolution for client facing wire fraud felony charges and one of the first federal prosecutions under the CAN-SPAM Act. Negotiated an ultimate loss amount of $9,700 for client, a huge departure from the initial $70+ million claimed.
  • Achieved a mistrial in the federal trial of an executive of prominent website charged in 100-count indictment with conspiracy, violations of the Travel Act, and money laundering.
  • Defended individual charged with wire fraud and money laundering based on allegations by Qualcomm (QCOM) and the Department of Justice.
  • Argued before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals that the Double Jeopardy Clause should prevent retrial of a high profile case in which a mistrial was achieved based on prosecutorial misconduct.
  • Represented individual in aggressive asset seizure forfeiture actions.
  • Achieved complete dismissal of state vandalism charges.
  • Obtained reversal of client’s conviction from Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals, in which the Circuit recognized the theory that an unlawful removal of a legal permanent resident in absentia infected his subsequent removal from the United States and could not serve as the basis for future criminal prosecutions.
  • Achieved jury acquittal for client facing ten-year mandatory minimum prison sentence accused of importing methamphetamine.
  • Obtained dismissals of all charges for multiple clients charged with federal drug offenses after litigating discovery, constitutional, and suppression issues.
  • Litigated discovery, constitutional, and suppression issues in a bulk cash smuggling case and obtained favorable resolution whereby client avoided incarceration.
  • Obtained dismissal of federal charges and sealing of arrest record for clients accused of importing narcotics and transporting undocumented persons.
  • Won suppression of statements and dismissal of federal drug importation charges for a client arrested at the Port of Entry in a car full of narcotics.
  • Secured pre-trial dismissal of all charges for client accused of assaulting a federal officer.
  • Secured jury acquittal for client charged with driving under the influence.
  • Secured jury acquittal for client accused of assault.
  • Litigated motions to dismiss alleging a due process violation of an administrative misapplication of criminal law and thereby negotiated favorable dispositions for clients.
  • Argued due process violations in prior proceedings for a severely mentally ill client facing federal felony charges and obtained a misdemeanor resolution.
  • Obtained probationary sentences, thereby avoiding lengthy prison terms, for multiple clients convicted of importing narcotics and violating other federal laws.
  • Identified and secured citizenship for client facing deportation.

Professional Highlights


Speaking Engagements

  • Panelist, Trial Practice Fundamentals I: Key Issues at the Start of Trial, American Bar Association’s 38th White Collar Crime National Institute, Miami, FL, March 1, 2023
  • Panelist, Fundamentals of Trial Practice II: Game-Changing Strategy Calls, American Bar Association 37th Annual National Institute on White Collar Crime, San Francisco, CA, March 2, 2022
  • Panelist, Tips and Trends: The Impact of COVID-19 on White Collar Litigation, Federal Bar Association and the Women’s White Collar Defense Association, April 15, 2020
  • Faculty Panelist, Game of Phones: Fourth Amendment Defenses Against Cell Evidence, Federal Judicial Center National Seminar for Federal Defenders, May 31, 2018
  • Faculty Presenter, Close Encounters of the 1324 Kind: Demystifying Alien Smuggling Cases, 2017 Annual Criminal Justice Agency Seminar for the Southern District of California, September 20, 2017