TOWSON, Md. (WJZ) — A pioneer on the bench in Maryland retires after a lengthy and distinguished career.

Kai Jackson reports Chief Judge Robert Bell broke barriers and set a high standard of excellence.

It’s a round of applause for Robert Bell at a legal symposium Friday in downtown Baltimore.

He’s been chief judge of the Maryland Court of Appeals since 1996. Now, after a legal career that spans nearly 40 years, his honor is retiring.

“The career has been a  good career. It’s one that’s been rewarding for me. I hope that I’ve done some things that made some good sense and have helped some people and have changed the law positively,” said Bell.

Robert Bell was born on July 6, 1943 in Rocky Mount, N.C. He’s a 1966 graduate of Morgan State University and graduated from Harvard Law School in 1969.

His legal career hit a milestone when he joined the Maryland Court of Appeals in 1991. Governor Parris Glendening appointed him chief judge in 1996, making Bell the first African-American to lead Maryland’s judiciary.

But years prior to that, he was a trailblazer in civil rights by trying to integrate a Baltimore restaurant.

“One of his goals and one of his legacies I think will be diversity in the judiciary. And I’m the one of two African-American women administrative judges in the state,” said Judge Marcella Holland, Baltimore City Circuit Court.

Observers say equally important is Bell’s belief in justice for the people and access to the system.

Maryland mandates judges retire at the age of 70, and Bell believes the timing is good.

“There needs to be opportunities for new people, younger people, newer ideas. And you ought to have some cutoff point where that can occur,” Bell said.

There was a big retirement party for Judge Bell Thursday night at the Hilton Hotel.

Bell jokes that he plans to enjoy retirement by doing as little as possible.


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