Beginning in October 2020, Edwin T. Bell, deputy court administrator for the Stone Mountain Judicial Circuit, joins the National Center for State Courts as the Director of Racial Justice, Equity and Inclusion.
Michelle Barclay: Congratulations on your new position! It is great to see a Georgia Court Administrator moving to this national position. We are thrilled that Georgia provided the person of expertise for this new role.
Edwin Bell: Thank you, I was quite happy to get the call.
MB: We used to work together at the AOC and you have gone on to hold a few positions at the Georgia county-level court systems, most recently as Deputy Court Administrator for DeKalb County. Let’s start by talking about how COVID-19 has affected you. Personally and professionally, are you doing okay?
Edwin Bell: I’m doing okay. I have been working in the courthouse every day. I never did work from home too much because we needed a skeleton crew at the courthouse. But that has been okay for me. My family has gone a little stir crazy at times, but we are all okay. I have lost some family members to COVID-19. While my immediate family is fine, my wife’s uncle and my cousin died due to the virus.
MB: I’m so sorry. That is just terrible news. It’s hitting me that the disproportionate impact the virus has had on minorities is connected to your new position.
Edwin Bell: It is absolutely connected.
MB: What was your path to this new position?
Edwin Bell: I was asked by Mary McQueen, President of the NCSC to step into this new role and work to look at the national landscape on race, justice, equity, and inclusion. I am going to try to connect the dots where things are going well and build upon those successes, promote them, and repeat them. I want to help the NCSC to help our courts better navigate these issues. I think I was selected in part because I’m an administrator in a busy urban court. I hope that with this job I can shine a light on these regular practices that have gone on for a long time– and to which many of us inside the system have not objected or not objected enough–and show the impact that these practices have on our citizens. We have to be careful not to look at court practices as just being whatever is best for the judges and court staff. I really like working in courts and I really like my colleagues, but we all stand to gain by taking a hard look at our basic practices and procedures. Some of the things we do need to change dramatically; other things may just need adjustment.
MB: How did you meet Mary McQueen and folks at the NCSC?
Edwin Bell: Starting when I was working for the Georgia AOC, I have had interactions with her and other members of NCSC leadership. I attended many trainings and conferences and I would see the same people over the years. I eventually became a Fellow of the Institute for Court Management. Over time, we have had many candid conversations about these issues, which led to the creation of this position and me being offered it.
MB: What are your plans for Day 1 of your job?
Edwin Bell: I want to know who is doing what right now. Then, what can the NCSC do to be of service to that state or group? Places that have already identified solutions to some of these problems are of most interest to me. Workable solutions are what court administrators, judges, and clerks are expecting of the NCSC.
MB: Let’s move forward a year to October 2021. What do you hope will be in place by that time?
Edwin Bell: Hopefully, by then, I will have accomplished what I set out to do on Day 1. I hope to have identified exactly who’s doing what around the nation and I will have made the appropriate partnerships. I’m hoping we’ll have expanded successful trainings, webinars, and roundtable discussions with people around the country in a cohesive way. We’ll also be setting new goals for the future. I think pulling people together is going to be a bit of a challenge, especially for groups of people and organizations that are already doing the work. I want to be sensitive to the needs of those groups. I’m also hoping that conversations of racial justice, equity, and inclusion will be part of the mainstream conversation going on in the country. I’d like to see that people don’t balk or get nervous when conversations start about these issues or when people are asked to participate to continue identifying ways to level the playing field.
MB: Let’s talk about where you hope to be in 5 years.
Edwin Bell: I hope that judges and courts will have seen the benefits of making changes in their judicial systems and court processes. And that we will have measurable positive impacts for the people who are most negatively disproportionately impacted by race, inequity, or non-inclusion in different areas of the judicial system. I hope that it will be normal to take these things into consideration so that we’ll be on a path of continual improvement. I think we’ll have a lot of support around the country to get to a better place and I hope to leverage that support to help the NCSC to be a unifier in these efforts. This whole effort is a long-game approach. I do want your readers to know that I welcome and need input from judges, administrators, and clerks of court on what you think and how to move this work forward. I look forward to hearing from everyone.