They say that lawyers are leaders. Bob Bell was 16 and president of the student government at Dunbar High School, when students from Morgan State College (now Morgan State University) approached him, seeking recruits for a sit-in at one of Baltimore’s many downtown restaurants that refused to serve blacks.
It was 1960. And Bell decided to join them. The decision put his name on the docket of Bell v. Maryland—a case that attracted the legal talents of Thurgood Marshall, Juanita Jackson Mitchell ‘50, and Constance Baker Motley, among other civil rights legends, as it rose to the U.S. Supreme Court and played a pivotal role in the desegregation of public accommodations.
On Friday, April 19, faculty members from Maryland Carey Law, including Professors William Reynolds, Renée Hutchins, and Deborah Eisenberg, joined colleagues from the University of Baltimore Law School for a discussion of the legal landscape of the state and its many changes during Chief Judge Bell’s tenure in the Maryland judiciary as he prepares to step down after 38 years on the bench. The symposium was co-sponsored by the law school, UB Law School and the Maryland State Bar Association.
It’s not unusual to see Judge Bell, Chief Judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals—the state’s highest court-- at Maryland Carey Law. He recently delivered the law school’s annual Thurgood Marshall Lecture, is a frequent presenter at the annual Black Law Student Association banquet and has served for more than a decade on the school’s Board of Visitors. In fact, at his suggestion, the Board welcomed its first student representative in April, 2013, when the newly-elected president of the Student Bar Association added Board membership to his portfolio of SBA responsibilities.
“Judge Bell is a staunch friend of this law school,” says Dean Phoebe A. Haddon. “Every fall he talks with our first-year students during orientation about a lawyer’s responsibility to improve the law; to make it more just and accessible, especially for those at the margins of our society.”
Now, Judge Bell’s career is entering a new a phase. Bell is leaving the bench after serving for 17 years as Chief Judge—the first African American to hold that position and one of the few judges to have served at all four levels of the Maryland judiciary during his career. He recently told the Baltimore Sun, “As time passes, you need the infusion of new energy and new ideas. You’re more likely to get that with the new blood.”
Maryland judges face mandatory retirement at age 70. Chief Judge Bell, who turns 70 this year, will retire on July 6, 2013.
“Bell is known for his thoughtful and well-researched opinions,” observed William Reynolds, Jacob A. France Professor of Judicial Process at Maryland Carey Law and a former Harvard Law student who graduated a year after Judge Bell. “He’s also a gentleman,” Reynolds added, “a type of judge unfortunately not as common as it should be.”
During his tenure, Judge Bell worked hard to demystify the court system and educate the public about its functions and procedures. He promoted mediation, negotiation and other types of alternative dispute resolution (ADR) and established an Access to Justice Commission to identify barriers to justice and strategies for addressing them.