Robert M. Bell
Former Chief Judge
Maryland Court of Appeals
As a teenager, Robert M. Bell led a sit-in at a local restaurant as a protest to racial segregation. The restaurant refused to serve him and his fellow students, and they were asked to leave. Bell and the group refused. They were arrested and then convicted for criminal trespassing. The NAACP took on the case to help Bell appeal the conviction. The Maryland Court of Appeals upheld the Circuit Court’s decision, and Bell’s team of lawyers appealed the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Little did he know at the time, but his case, Bell v. Maryland, would be at the forefront of pushing the United States toward ending segregation.
Bell went on to earn his Bachelor of Arts from Morgan State University and attended Harvard Law School, earning his Juris Doctor in 1969.
He was appointed to the District Court of Maryland in 1975, and later served as an associate judge in the Baltimore City Circuit Court – the same court that convicted him of criminal trespassing as a teenager, a decision that was later overturned – from 1980 to 1984. He was then appointed to the Maryland Court of Special Appeals, where he served for seven years.
In 1996, he was appointed to the Maryland Court of Appeals and became chief judge, the first African American to hold the position.
In a previous interview about his rise through the ranks of Maryland’s judicial system, Bell noted, “… Only when you become chief judge can you really understand, and fully appreciate, just how significant that is, the magnitude of the responsibility. As chief judge, I have been able to address the issue of access to justice, and also, in that same context, the issue of ensuring that there is, in fact, justice. I am very privileged to have been able to provide some small measure of access to the citizens of this state.”