Mandler started a law firm on Lincoln Road with his fraternity brother and law school friend, Harry Smith, in 1957. The two ex-Navy men would run the firm for 30 years and at the time, had twice as many attorneys as any other law firm on Miami Beach. They focused on general civil, corporate and real estate law. Smith was in charge of real estate and Mandler did the trial work. Mandler eventually became certified as a Civil Trial Advocate by the National Board of Advocacy and by the Florida Bar as a Civil Trial Attorney.
Early in his career, Mandler recognized the importance of public service. He made a name for himself in the 1960 “Bible Trial” representing four individuals and The American Jewish Congress in a lawsuit against the Dade County School Board. The suit involved the separation of church and state and challenged the reading of the Bible in public schools, as well as mandatory school prayer, the reciting of grace, singing hymns, observance of religious holidays, displays of religious symbols, religious study, identification of students by religion, and religious instruction and testing of teachers.
The trial, filled with William Jennings Bryan/Scopes trial theological references, was national, state, and local news fodder for months.
Mandler contended that the Bible reading statute was unconstitutional and the School Board should be ordered to desist from the other religious practices. He was partially successful in the lower court. The lower court enjoined the School Board from having Easter and Christmas programs but continued Bible reading and other practices. The readings were upheld by the Florida Supreme Court but ultimately overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 1965; finding that prayer and devotional Bible reading in state public schools violated the establishment of the religion clause of the U. S. Constitution.
Mandler’s son Jeffrey remembers seeing his father on the evening news during the Bible Trial. He was only six at the time but the case would shape both father and son. “He gave us the love of the law and the love of public service,” Jeffrey Mandler told theHerald. “That is what he lived by and that is why we are a family of lawyers.”
Many in the Madler clan followed in his footsteps by becoming lawyers. Jeffrey Mandler is Miami Law class of 1980 and is a partner at Rennert, Vogel, Mandler & Rodriguez. His son Nathan became the first third generation law student to graduate from the “U” with the class of 2007. Bernard Mandler’s oldest son, Mitchell, also followed in his father’s footsteps and went to law school and is a partner at Becker Poliakoff. His youngest son, Gabriel, is currently in his first year at Miami Law.
Bernard Mandler remained active in public service during his long career as a member of the Community Relations Board of the Federation and many other community groups. He is survived by his wife of 64 years, Ellen; his two sons; daughter, Lori Winters, and eight grandchildren. He has left a lasting legacy among the lawyers with whom he worked in his years in practice; and with his family and his alma mater.