Edwin Bell is up to the challenge of improving racial equity in the courts



Edwin Bell is up to the challenge of improving racial equity in the courts

Edwin Bell’s mother always told him to “never take the easy job.” Bell, who in October joins NCSC as the director of Racial Equity, Fairness, and Inclusion, knows the job won’t be easy. It will be difficult, challenging, and immensely rewarding. And he can’t wait to get started. “I’m very optimistic and ready to work really hard to show the public we (courts) want to be fair to all,” Bell said.

NCSC recently created this position to support a resolution passed in July by the Conference of Chief Justices (CCJ) and the Conference of State Court Administrators (COSCA), aimed to address racial equality in the justice system. Both CCJ and COSCA said they are committed to intensifying “efforts to combat racial prejudice within the justice system, both explicit and implicit, and to recommit ourselves to examine what systemic change is needed to make equality under the law an enduring reality for all, so that the justice we provide not only is fair to all but also is recognized by all to be fair.”

Bell brings 15 years of court experience to NCSC, which has given him insight on a possible starting place: judicial calendaring. Bell said for years he has observed judges who, for example, have more than 50 cases on their 9 a.m. calendar. For expediency, the judges will separate the groups into litigants who have attorneys and those who don’t. Normally the cases of litigants with attorneys are heard first, leaving the lower income and self-represented litigants waiting for hours sometimes. While this isn’t intended as a racial decision, Bell said “it can have a disproportionate impact on the economically disadvantaged, who are often minorities … There has to be a way ahead of time to separate these groups,” that doesn’t leave another group seemingly singled out to wait for hours, missing work and suffering other potential personal and economic results.

Bell’s presiding judge in Dekalb County courts has confidence he is the right person to bring about change. “Edwin Bell is a seasoned court professional who brings a wealth of knowledge and innovation to our courts.  He is well respected by judges, administrators, staff, and the public and he will bring much needed insight to how best those groups will work together to create a better judiciary,” said Chief Judge Asha Jackson.

Bell describes himself as a good listener who is approachable -- two traits he believes will be an asset in this new position. “It says a lot that NCSC made a decision to develop a position like this,” Bell said. “To be able to tackle this issue in courts everywhere is very humbling and I’m up to it.”

Rubber, meet road: Where innovations in applied court technology mean real change

Join Judge Nicholas Chu (Travis County, Texas) and Judge Antonia Arteaga (Bexar County, Texas) on Thursday, September 10 at 3 pm EDT to hear their experiences and lessons from running among the nation’s first virtual jury trials. Snorri Ogata (Chief Information Officer, Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County) and Steve Tamura (Project Manager, Superior Court of California, Los Angeles County) will also discuss their implementation of chatbots. Register here.