Bell joins the Supreme Court

first_img Bell joins the Supreme Court March 1, 2003 Managing Editor Regular News Bell joins the Supreme Courtcenter_img Mark D. Killian Managing EditorA man of character, a man of integrity, a man of the law, and a man of faith whose “moral compass points true north.”That’s how friends and colleagues described Justice Kenneth B. Bell at the February 14 swearing-in ceremony at the Supreme Court in Tallahassee – a spirited occasion where revelers from Florida’s “Great Northwest” celebrated the investiture of the first Supreme Court justice appointment from west of Tallahassee in 100 years.The largely Panhandle crowd also was entertained by the Pensacola Children’s Chorus’ medley of patriotic songs and hymns. At times, the swearing-in ceremony took on the spiritual reverence of a church service.“I truly believe that Ken felt a calling for this job,” said First Circuit Chief Judge-elect Kim Skievaski.“Perhaps our remarks about Justice Bell’s faith and having a calling are a bit chancy, because it may be disconcerting to some to connect faith and God with government service, especially when the order of the day is separation of church and state. But I, for one, know what the separation of church and state means and, more importantly, Justice Bell knows what it means.”While Bell will be missed terribly in the First Circuit, Skievaski said, he is thankful for Justice Bell’s appointment “because he will never forget his obligation to work to assure civil and legal rights of all.”Remembering Bell as “just one of the guys” at law school, Skievaski said he will do a “superior job” as a justice, and knows Bell applied for the Supreme Court for unselfish reasons and not for the sake of ambition.“I just pledge before you that with God’s help I will support, protect, and defend the constitution and the government of this nation and this great state, and that I will fully devote myself to the duties of this office,” said Bell, 46, a Pensacola trial judge for the past 12 years who has handled more than 27,500 cases.“My bold vision is a Supreme Court that promotes an unassailable public confidence in the exercise of this judicial power. I commit to you that I will give my all to my oath to the dignity and to the people of the great state of Florida.”Gov. Jeb Bush said it was important to have a trial judge on the high court and said Bell brings to the job a proven commitment to principled, centered judicial philosophy and an extensive record of community involvement.“He also has worked extensively on juvenile delinquency issues, school violence prevention, and the establishment of drug rehabilitation programs in his circuit,” Bush said, adding that all three branches of government need to work to “make sure the lives of children are front and center in our lives.”Bell said he was honored to replace retired Justice Leander Shaw on the bench, calling him one of the “great pioneering jurists in this state.”Commenting on the Bible presented him by Florida Bar President Tod Aronovitz, Justice Bell said: “The Bible presents God as perfectly just, as one who hates partiality, and abhors bribes — who disdains uneven scales and demands the same justice for everyone, whether rich or poor, or strong or weak, popular or unpopular, friend or stranger.“The one great truth that echoes throughout history time and again is that liberty is God’s gift to everyone,” Justice Bell said. “It is our natural right. It was voiced by Lincoln at the time of this nation’s greatest peril when he called for a new birth of freedom under God. It is a thought that Jefferson penned with the elegant words of this nation’s creed – the Declaration of Independence. There it is said that our right to exist as a nation independent of ancient tyranny rests in the end with the laws of nature and of a just God. I consider the gift of knowing this God to be the greatest gift of all.”Bar President Aronovitz remarked that all Bell’s friends and colleagues he spoke to in preparation for the investiture spoke highly of his character and commitment to his community.“Two hundred years separate the constitutional framers’ understanding of judicial independence from ours,” said Aronovitz, who then read a definition of judicial independence from the Brennan Center for Justice at New York University: “Judicial independence is the freedom we give judges to act as principled decision-makers. The independence is intended to allow judges to consider the facts and the law of each case with an open mind and unbiased judgment. When truly independent, judges are not influenced by personal interests or relationships, the identity or status of the parties to a case, or external economic or political pressures.”During the ceremony, Bell presented gifts to his fellow justices representative of his community’s beach culture, including a beach bag and towels, t-shirts, and bottled water. He also presented each justice with an autographed picture of the Navy’s Blue Angels flight team, noting Pensacola is the birthplace of naval aviation. Margaret Stopp, president of the Escambia-Santa Rosa Bar Association, also presented the new justice with a garnet and gold robe, emblazoned with the Florida State University seal in honor of Bell being the first FSU law graduate to take a seat on the Supreme Court.Fighting back tears of joy, Sherman Robinson, Bell’s high school football coach, said: “This is one of my boys, one of my football players. God has chosen him specially for this moment.”Of his former hard-hitting linebacker, Coach Robinson said, “In high school, he portrayed extremely high qualities both in the classroom and on the football field. As kind as he was off the field, he was just as mean and tough on the field.. . . But as tough as he was, there was never any time any accusations were made that he took cheap shots.”Friend Edward P. Fleming called Bell’s appointment a victory for the state and asked Bell to always remember why the governor appointed him: because of his good academic and work experience; because of his demonstrated character and because his “moral compass points true north.”“You have a sacred duty to ensure that the will of the majority, as may be expressed through the legislature or even through the executive branch, does not trample on God-given rights that do not depend on majority votes and cannot be infringed, thereby,” Fleming said.Fleming also asked Bell to resist the “subtle temptation” to sometimes do what he thinks is the right thing, but for the wrong reasons, “and to trespass on territory granted exclusively to the executive and legislative branches of government.”Catina Wilson, a juvenile prosecutor, who has appeared before Bell many times, said the new justice brings “an air of peace and holiness each time he ascended to the bench. Not his holiness, but the holiness of the law and the peace that comes with allowing the law to become the strength and the champion together.”In juvenile court, Wilson said, judges, prosecutors, and defense attorneys are often tempted to look away from the law and “to fudge a little” to meet the needs of a child’s heart or to help a family in crisis – but not Bell.“If you want to anticipate how Judge Bell will rule — know the law,” Wilson said, adding that Bell also has long championed restorative justice.“He is the most faithful judge I have ever worked with in getting restitution for victims.“We citizens of Florida can expect that Justice Kenneth B. Bell’s addition to our beloved Florida Supreme Court will help secure the blessings of liberty envisioned by our forefathers and provided by Almighty God,” Wilson said.Chief Justice Harry Lee Anstead said the character of the court is determined by the character of its members “and Justice Bell, with the wonderful tribute that has been paid to your character by those who know you best in life, bodes well for the character of this court.”last_img

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