This past weekend, the General Sessions Music City Community Court, Division VIII marked another success of fair justice and transparency. Judge Rachel L. Bell and Community partners facilitated several Saturday Court Dockets at Nehemiah Missionary Baptist Church, with Minister Thomas Hunter) located in the Andrew Jackson Boys and Girls Club. Court proceedings were held in the gymnasium of the club; with a fully staffed court agenda.
Saturday Community Service Return Docket for 4 hours credit- 41 defendants
8:00 a.m. – 10:00 a.m.
Saturday Indigency and Expungement Clinic Registration (Limited to the first 100 participants) 48 were pre-registered/ 19 participated, 8 pre-registered from the community service return docket and 76 day of registrants
10:15 a.m.- 3:00 p.m.
Saturday Indigency and Expungement Clinic Docket with Pro Bono Lawyers providing free legal advice and review of criminal defendants
• 103 participants
• 12 Pro Bono Attorneys reported providing over 5 hours of legal consultation
• Over $120,000.00 court cost and fines waived
• Expungement paperwork processed for over 978 cases
Judge Bell shared, “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. The Saturday Community Service Return Docket was created to allow each defendant that pled guilty and the court agreed to take their plea under advisement with the condition of performing 4 hours of court ordered community service.
The participants are originally set for a return docket on January 27, 2017 at 11:00 a.m. in Courtroom 5C. Those participants that attended this 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 amongst the many other dockets we have set through the week.”
Those required to do 4 hours of community service work were required to report on time and after a briefing, they were given reflective safety vest for the cleanup work. Judge Bell’s Court officer Fred Kilpatrick and the Court Interpreter, Maureen Villabos oversaw the community service cleaning crews. They were divided into 3 separate groups and each group was given a charted route in the North area of Nashville to follow and to square away. Cleaning parts of 16th Ave., Jo Johnston, 14th Ave. and Herman Street, Martin Luther King Magnet School and Watkins Library.
Meanwhile back at the community court site, the indigency docket and expungement clinic was set to run effectively from 10:00 am to 2:00 pm. In efforts to fully and fairly accommodate all of the registrants, the clinic ran a bit over. Formal introductions were made per Judge Bell which included; a welcome by Min. Thomas Hunter. Her honor introduced Davidson county Criminal Court Clerk, Mr. Howard Gentry. Amber Floyd, Volunteer Pro-Bono Attorney Coordinator, Patricia Mills, TN Administrative Office of the Courts and other volunteer staff and supporters for the day. Some Local professional and community leaders and icons stopped by.
Including Dr. Marquetta L. Faulkner, Senior Vice President for Health Affairs – and Dean School of Medicine for Meharry Medical College. Also attending with the days activities at the Boys and Girls Club were the Nashville Alumni Chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity providing families with turkeys for Thanksgiving Dinners and some other members of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority Inc. and Sigma Gamma Rho Sorority Inc., several church members from Watson Grove Missionary Baptist Church, Nehemiah Missionary Baptist Church and staff from the TN Administrative Office of the Courts assisting with sign-in and registration.
Along the day’s agenda there was more than enough literature on hand with a bevy of other resources for attendees to research if necessary. One sheet specifically provided a brief synopsis of various agencies and organizations. That sheet included; an ABA (American Bar Association) free legal answers: www.tm.freelelgalanswerrs.org A statewide phone legal helpline: 1-844-HELP4TN and www.Help4TN.org. / www.justiceforalltn.com/resource/legal-clinics-tennessee As well as the TN Faith and Justice Alliance: <www.justiceforalltn.com/i-canhelp/faith-based-initiative. A separate resource sheet explaining “all things expungement” title: Expungements -What you need to know’ was included in there source hand outs. Each defendant was granted an attorney consultation to discuss and review their criminal record before going in front of Judge Bell. Each volunteer attorney worked on their clients behalf with amazing zeal, to the utmost.
Judge Bell believes it is important to empower others by teaching and utilizing any and all available resources that will allow everyone she comes in contact with a better quality of life overall. The General Sessions Music City Community Court, Division VIII has been successful in restoring countless lives, to the letter of the law and dignity. The full day community court sessions have taken place throughout Nashville at various church and community venues for over 4 years now and are continuing to grow. In addition to insight, experience and compassion that Judge Bell automatically brings to the proverbial table, it still takes a well oiled team to pull them off.
The clinic’s are presented in partnership with highly credible and vested organizations and agencies such as; the Davison County Criminal Court’s office – Howard Gentry. The Tennessee Faith and Justice Alliance and the TBA (Tennessee Bar Association) Young Lawyers Division. November’s Saturday Docket was also in partnership with Nehemiah Missionary Baptist Church and the Andrew Jackson Boys and Girls Club. Continental breakfast and a light lunch with water and juice beverages were provide by Minister Hunter and the church for all the volunteers.
Each applicant had to prove their financial status and provide an honest account of key life changes as it related to being a part of this process. Once the applicant completed the affidavit of indigency with the assistance of a lawyers the motion to be declared indigent is presented to Judge Bell who decides based on Tennessee Code Annotated (TCA) Sections 40-25-123 and 40-24-104 if some or all fees can be forgiven and what cases paperwork for an order of expungement may be granted. Some are given a payment plan if their income stats demonstrate an ability to pay the fines and cost, without placing them in further or any, financial fray. Some are totally forgiven and either way, the next step of the process toward restoring their driver’s license explained.
Many lives were changed for better that day and Judge Bell and all in partnership ended the day on a high note of pride, a strong sense of community and pride. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org or 615-862-8341.