Judge Rachel L. Bell prepares for Saturday Community Court Dockets

Judge Rachel L. Bell does an evening site visit at the November Music City Community Court venue (photo by Deborah A. Culp).

Judge Rachel L. Bell does an evening site visit at the November Music City Community Court venue (photo by Deborah A. Culp).

As we move successfully into the month of November and kick off the major winter holiday season, more of Nashville residents will benefit from an amazing community program. General Sessions Court Judge Rachel L. Bell continues fair justice on and off the bench. On November 19 she and some community partners will hold another General Sessions Music City Community Court, Division VIII (Community Court), Saturday Court Dockets. There will be two court dockets, including: the Community Service Return Docket and the Pro Se Indigency Docket; and the well-known Expungement Clinic. The selected site for the Saturday docket will be at the Nehemiah Baptist Church, located within the Andrew Jackson based Boys and Girls Club. Rev. Thomas Hunter, Sr., senior pastor, is the sheppard of the house and is eagerly anticipating the event as well.

Until I witnessed the practices of the General Sessions Court firsthand and Judge Bell’s practices in particular, I’d never dreamt of the idea of such a busy venue being held on and off the bench. Judge Bell’s day doesn’t end when her last case is heard in the General Sessions Court (at the Justice A. A. Birch building). Her work responsibilities continue after the last case has been heard, including the input of the invaluable community partners.

There are no guarantees of expungements, driver’s license restoration, or being declared indigent, but her honor and the team literally do all possible for the respondents who apply for the free program. Many factors define the overall success of the program, and it is not a quick fix. In my humble option, there are so many people in the city in need of these services, it is a sincere privilege to apply and be successful. I’m only being real when I say that not everyone makes it through, but there are so many who actually do.

The success of the program over the years has changed the course of numerous lives for the better, and Judge Bell is very proud of the Community Courts efforts.

It is hard enough these days to be successful without a criminal record or (for those that drive) the independence of driving privileges. Of course the latter includes a valid driver’s insurance and a properly working vehicle. This may sound elementary on some level, but they all work in concert together for the good of everyone. One of the reasons Judge Rachel L. Bell started hosting the Community Court, Saturday Dockets, every 4-6 weeks around Davidson County is because of the overwhelming support from pro bono lawyers and the staunch teamwork.

“The lawyers, volunteers and my staff that come out to support the endeavor and work tireless hours are the heart beat of the Saturday Court Dockets,” said Judge Bell. “We cannot do it without them.”

“When I was a lawyer, I enjoyed visiting churches and community centers while providing free legal services and helping people in need. It feels great and the work is transforming lives. I really appreciate the support of the community at large and am very excited about the partnership with the Tenn. Administrative Office of Courts and the Tenn. Faith and Justice Alliance Initiative.

This year alone we have hosted six Saturday Court Dockets and all in partnership with Howard Gentry, the Criminal Court Clerk and his office staff.”

Other churches and communities hosting the Community Court with Judge Bell are New Covenant Christian Church (DOC) where the Expungement Clinic was birthed and is hosted every year; The Village Church at Madison Fifty Forward; Watson Grove Missionary Baptist Church; and several hosted at The Arnette Bodenhamer Community Room at the North Police Precinct along the Judge Rachel L. Bell adopted highway with TDOT.

To learn more about working with Judge Bell and hosting a Community Court, Saturday Docket, at your church or community center call 615-862-8341 or e-mail- <gscommunitycourt@jis.nashville.org>, or visit <http://gscourt.nashville.gov/about-us/judges/division-viii-judge-rachel-l-bell/>.