Nehemiah Missionary Baptist Church brings Music City Community Court to Andrew Jackson

Judge Bell, Rev. Thomas Hunter, community court volunteers and partners. (photo by Deborah A. Culp)

Judge Bell, Rev. Thomas Hunter, community court volunteers and partners. (photo by Deborah A. Culp)

Rev. Thomas Hunter and Nehemiah Missionary Baptist Church brought justice to the Andrew Jackson community with the help of Judge Rachel Bell and Davidson County Court Clerk, Howard Gentry.

Nehemiah MBC hosted the General Sessions Music City Community Court at the Boys & Girls Club located in the middle of the MDHA Andrew Jackson Community.

The Music City Community Court was founded by Judge Rachel L. Bell in 2012 and is focused on preventive and diversionary justice on the premise that “Justice does not stop at the courthouse steps.”

The special court gave offenders the ability to file a motion on the spot to be heard by the court to have records expunged, or declare indigency to have certain fines and fees waived.

Rev. Thomas Hunter, Sr., pastor of Nehemiah Missionary Baptist Church, spoke to the dozens in attendance hoping to get their records expunged and lives back on track.

Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry, Judge Rachel Bell, and Pastor Thomas Hunter, Sr.

Criminal Court Clerk Howard Gentry, Judge Rachel Bell, and Pastor Thomas Hunter, Sr.

“I’d like to thank Judge Bell and Court Clerk Howard Gentry for bringing their court and agency to this community,” said Rev. Hunter. “We are very intentional as a church to plant ourselves in the heart of the community and to do things like this to get you in a better place in life.”

According to Rev. Hunter, criminal and arrest records pose a considerable barrier to securing housing and employment. He believes that a huge step toward bettering your situation is having a good job.

“There are some job fairs we have planned, so once you get this stuff expunged—it’s time to go to work,” he told attendees.

Without the help of Judge Rachel Bell and Howard Gentry, Criminal court clerk for Davidson County, the court would not be possible.

Gentry pointed out that the expungement process is a right.

“When people get in trouble, they don’t know how to get out of trouble. They don’t have the right counsel to get them out of their circumstances. The fact is that you need help. You’re sitting here getting ready to exercise your right, and I’m glad that you are here,” he said.

Judge Bell let attendees know that not everything can be pulled off a criminal record by expungement, but those individuals who were not able to be helped at least got a better understanding of their position.

Gentry echoed that sentiment and added that despite your circumstances “there is always a way to move forward.”

Also in attendance was Amber Floyd, Memphis attorney, who coordinated the pro-bono attorneys in attendance to help with the court.

Judge Rachel L. Bell Community Service Clean Up Crew. (Courtesy picture)

Judge Rachel L. Bell Community Service Clean Up Crew. (courtesy picture)

Judge Rachel L. Bell Community Service Work project

By Deborah A. Culp

As the General Sessions Music City Community Court was being held inside, the Community Service Work project was taking place outside.

Bell’s Community Service Work project allows offenders who are ordered to complete hours of community work to be given immediate credit. This means that they do not have to return to court to show proof of compliance.

“The Saturday Community Court Dockets were birthed in keeping my promise to provide access to justice and to allow our courts to be more visible to the community at large,” said Judge Bell. “The participants were originally set for a return docket on January 27, 2017 at 11 am in Courtroom 5C. Those participants that attended Saturday do not have to come back to court to show proof.

Their cases were dismissed right on the spot, and they were automatically registered for the Indigency and Expungement Clinic Docket.

“I am happy that this docket allows the defendant to avoid having to take off work, pay for parking downtown and go through the hassle of attending court among the many other dockets we have set through the week,” said Bell

Judge Bell’s Court officer Fred Kilpatrick and the Court Interpreter, Maureen Villabos oversaw the community service cleaning crews. Those required to do 4 hours of community service were given reflective safety vest for the cleanup work. They were divided into 3 separate groups and each group was given a charted route in the North area of Nashville to follow; cleaning parts of 16th Ave., Jo Johnston, 14th Ave. and Herman Street, Martin Luther King Magnet School and Watkins Library.

The full day community court sessions and the community service clean up aspect of the day’s docket have taken place throughout Nashville. Each of them at various church and community venues and different neighborhoods’, for over 4 years now and are continuing to grow.

If your church or organization would like to hold a General Sessions Music City Community Court, Division VIII- Saturday Docket with Judge Bell and Community Partners please contact gscommunitycourt@jis.nashville.org or 615-862-8341.