Maryland Bar Bulletin
Publications : Bar Bulletin : March 2005

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Chief Judge Bell Honored
~Recognizing 30 years of judicial excellence~

By Janet Stidman Eveleth

Judge Bell

"I try to give back what was given to me and to prepare those yet to come."
The Honorable Robert M. Bell

On February 17, 2005, Maryland’s legal community celebrated Black History Month with a joint event at the Hyatt Regency Hotel in Baltimore. Over 500 people turned out for this special affair, sponsored by the Maryland State Bar Association (MSBA), the Bar Association of Baltimore City (BABC) and the Monumental City Bar Association (MCBA), which saluted the civil rights movement and paid tribute to one of its heroes, the Honorable Robert M. Bell, Chief Judge of the Court of Appeals of Maryland.

While the black history event, entitled “The Civil Rights Road to Annapolis…Celebrating 30 Years of the Judicial Excellence of Chief Judge Robert M. Bell”, honored this distinguished jurist, lawyer and civil rights activist for his achievements and milestones across a truly impressive legal career, it also celebrated the history of the civil rights movement and the pioneers who sought desegregation and equal justice for all.

The Honorable Marcella Holland, MC for the evening, welcomed the 500+ attorneys, judges and guests and applauded Chief Judge Bell for his achievements in the civil rights movement and on the bench. She saluted Chief Judge Bell’s legacy as the epitome of Black History Month.

“Judge Bell is being honored tonight, but the honor is really MSBA’s,” exclaimed Neil Helfrich, MSBA President. “Judge Bell is a friend of MSBA’s 21,000 members and all lawyers in Maryland, and he has done more for lawyers than any other Chief Judge in Maryland. He is a living symbol of all that is good and noble about American lawyers. When you think of civil rights, you think of Chief Judge Bell, who put life in the civil rights movement.”

BABC President Thomas C. Cardaro applauded Bell’s 30 years of judicial excellence and praised him as an outstanding mentor who has always gone the extra mile. Neil E. Duke, MCBA President, praised Bell as a trailblazer. “Judge Bell is dedicated to judicial excellence and has achieved the highest level of success,” said Duke.

Larry S. Gibson, University of Maryland School of Law professor, served as the keynote speaker for the evening, putting Judge Bell’s remarkable career into a historical context by tracing the roots of the civil rights movement dating back to 1877. He outlined the progress of the civil rights movement and profiled the many African American attorney activists that made it happen.

Gibson also offered the highlights of Bell’s civil rights day, including the Bell v. Maryland case, which went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court. He spoke of Bell protesting segregation as a student involved in a sit-in at Baltimore’s Hooper’s Restaurant in June 1960 and his subsequent arrest for trespassing. Gibson traced the progress of Bell’s case to the Supreme Court with Juanita Jackson Mitchell, Robert B. Watts, Thurgood Marshall and Tucker Dearing defending him.

Bell’s illustrious career included many landmarks, and a major one for Bell and the civil rights movement came when he was hired by the law firm of Piper and Marbury in 1969, “a significant breakthrough,” stressed Gibson. Bell’s service on every judicial bench in the state was also commended. Gibson credited Bell’s legacy as one of the major achievements for the civil rights movement.

The evening concluded with a special video honoring the African American attorneys who served as the pioneers of the civil rights movement in Maryland and across the country. It also paid special tribute to Chief Judge Bell. The honoree of the evening was appreciative for the honor and most humble. “Thank you for honoring someone who is only doing his job,” said Bell.

Bell applauded Gibson’s remarks, which “really encapsulated the civil rights movement as a continuum between the past, the present and the future. One flows into the other,” he said. “What happened yesterday matters a great deal to what happens today, and what happens today defines what will happen tomorrow. It is people building bridges,” Bell concluded. “I try to give back what was given to me and to prepare those yet to come.”

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Publications : Bar Bulletin: March, 2005

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