Judge Bell is on the Front Lines of Criminal Justice Reform

Native Nashvillian creates history making initiatives
as a judge for the citizens of Davidson County.

By Tribune Staff

Eight years ago, Judge Bell said she would serve the community “ON” and “OFF” the bench.  Well, she has done just that.  She was elected during a special election in 2012 and re-elected in 2014. Since that time, as the Presiding Judge for General Sessions Court, Division VIII (8) she has heard 168,516 criminal cases; 26,533 civil cases; 8,303 traffic cases and 3,159 emergency mental health committal hearings. 

In 2012, Judge Bell started the State of Tennessee’s first Community Court focused on preventative, restorative, and diversionary justice centered on the concept that “Justice does NOT stop at the courthouse steps!”  Her vision for the court was to do all it can to help break the playground to prison pipeline; to restore and rehabilitate lives by using its power and resources to move the needle for marginalized people.  The name of the Court is the Music City Community Court and currently, the court has its permanent and dedicated space in Zip Code 37208 at the McGruder Center in a room she named the Bordeaux North Community Justice Center.

Judge Bell shared, “I am most proud of the Bordeaux North Community Justice Center. As a native North Nashvillian that has lived here my whole life, I know the need here is huge.  Creating a space for Justice in North Nashville the very place that was listed #1 in the 2018 Brookings Institute Study for arrests wasn’t news to me, I have always known the issues.  When I first started the Music City Community Court, we started our work in 37208 to bring restorative justice here for Davidson County.  Since our inception, in partnership with Howard Gentry and the Criminal Court Clerk’s Office we have assisted more than 13,180 defendants and processed over 59,632 cases for indigency & record expungements.  In addition, we adopted 3 highways in partnership with TDOT to do Community Service Clean-ups and we have conducted 6,014 hours saving taxpayers $129,490.78 to date.

In 2018, Judge Bell partnered with the TN Supreme Court AOC and was selected one of five courts in the Nation to receive technical assistance and $200,000.00 from the United States DOJ, Bureau of Justice Assistance with the Center for Court Innovation.  With their assistance, Judge Bell and her team were able to implement the C.A.R.E. (Creating Avenues for Restoration & Empowerment) Diversionary Court for Ages 18-30.  The C.A.R.E. Diversionary Court emphasizes the ways that crime harms relationships in the community and brings together the people most impacted by the crime to resolve it.  The C.A.R.E. Diversionary Court is for non-violent offenders and gives individualized justice to the victim and the offender.  C.A.R.E. has partnered with Oasis, Salvation Army, Mental Health Coop, Gideon’s Army & Bradford.

In 2021, Judge Bell in partnership with Alisha Haddock, Center Director for the McGruder Center will be launching the State of Tennessee’s first L.E.G.A.C.Y. (Let Every Goal Achieve Continuous Yields) Housing Resource Diversionary Court & Program.  

The  L.E.G.A.C.Y. HRDC/P is launching amid the COVID-19 pandemic to assist landlords and tenants with eviction diversion for non-payment of rent.  The first L.E.G.A.C.Y. HRDC/P Court Docket is set for Tuesday, February 2, 2021 and it will be virtual. 

The L.E.G.A.C.Y. HRDC/P is also focused on working with individuals in MDHA & Section 8 Housing and giving them a plan to move from government assisted living, to a living wage job, to marketplace rent then to becoming a first-time home buyer. 

The L.E.G.A.C.Y. HRDC/P has several stakeholders and partnerships that include, Catholic Charities, MDHA, Metro Action Commission, the Legal Aid Society, Vanderbilt University Housing Law Clinic, New Covenant Christian Church (DOC), the Nashville Conflict Resolution Center, and United Way.

Since April 2020, Judge Bell has been holding court virtually and shifting how her courtroom is run by following the CDC Guidelines and ensuring all that enter are safe.  She has opened up her docket as well to allow witnesses, defendants and their attorneys to have hearings virtually when requested.

From Judge Bell’s track record, it is not a surprise that her court was awarded the 2021 grant from the United States DOJ, BJA 6th Amendment initiative focusing on video court proceedings.

Judge Bell shared, “It is very important to me that we research and find better ways to conduct court. Innovation is important, and it’s time we adjust with technology to better meet the needs of the people.”

When asked about her willingness to serve another term, she said “ABSOLUTELY!”