Chief Judge Bell Honored
~Recognizing 30 years of judicial excellence~
By Janet Stidman Eveleth
"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,”
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
“I try to give back what was given to me and to prepare those yet to