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April 07, 2023 National Conference of State Trial Judges

What happens in Vegas….

NCSTJ Chair's Column

By Hon. Vivian Medinilla, Wilmington, DE

“Apparently, after I was struck, I landed on the hood of the car…. When the car stopped, I hit the top of my head on the ground, then slid on the right side of my face and body.” In 2014, the Honorable Linda Marie Bell gave this horrific account to a Las Vegas reporter as she began her long recovery from that accident. So, what happened in Vegas—in this instance—cannot stay there. Her life, recovery, and later rise to the Supreme Court of Nevada is a story worth telling. And like any great Hollywood hero’s tale it’s worthy of our cheers and applause. As a Philly girl, I’m partial to the Rocky films. So, “yo,” no offense to Mr. Stallone, but Balboa’s got nothin’ on the Hon. Linda Marie Bell.

Hon. Linda Marie Bell

Hon. Linda Marie Bell

Courtesy of Hon. Linda Marie Bell

I met then-Judge Bell in 2013 at a National Conference of State Trial Judges (NCSTJ) event. She commanded attention as a smart, strong, and vibrant leader. Not only was she involved with the ABA, but she was adeptly balancing her equally full-time responsibilities as both judge and mother raising three young children in Las Vegas. I was trying to do the same in Delaware and we immediately connected. In Judge Bell, I, like any who meet her, saw a winner. 

She would self-describe as a “shy” child who aspired to be a veterinarian because animals appealed to her more than humans, and frankly she preferred not to work with the latter. But two Bonanza High School teachers changed all that: her chemistry teacher, who suggested she run for student government and her speech teacher, who convinced her to hone her public speaking skills through a speech class. Justice Bell credits them for “planting the seeds” of her personal growth, and she flourished.

After Bonanza High, Justice Bell earned a B.A. in psychology from the University of Nevada in 1990. The path thereafter was unclear until her then-attorney father, the Honorable Stewart L. Bell (ret.), suggested law school. She submitted her LSAT registration via FedEx, just barely making the deadline. Of course, she scored well, and three years later, she received her J.D., magna cum laude, from the University of San Diego. After her admission to the Nevada State Bar in 1993, she clerked for the same court she would one day run as Chief Judge. Except for a brief three-year period in the private sector, her legal career has been dedicated to public service, including, but not limited to, working with the Law Offices of the Federal Public Defender. She took the bench in 2009, replacing her father as judge for the Eighth Judicial District Court of Clark County.

Five years later, tragedy struck. The speeding vehicle that hit Judge Bell was heading the wrong way down a one-way street. It was seven o’clock in the morning on November 7 and the judge was simply crossing the street to her downtown courthouse. Five pedestrians were killed that same week in Las Vegas. Although her life was spared, she suffered two broken knees, shoulder injuries, and was left with spinal herniated discs and closed traumatic brain injuries.

When I saw her next in 2015, I saw a survivor and a fighter. (Cue the Rocky music.) Judge Bell refused to give up. Five years post-accident, she delivered a lead hook in Round 1 and was elected to serve as Chief Judge of the largest court in Nevada. The perfect right-cross in Round 2 earned her the honor as 2019’s recipient of the Clark County Law Foundation Liberty Bell Award. With lightning quick movements, she delivered an uppercut to COVID, taking Round 3 in her fight to keep the courts opened during the pandemic. With a couple explosive jabs in Rounds 4 and 5, she served as Chairs of both the NCSTJ and the Judicial Division’s Ethics and Professional Responsibility Committee. She served as President of Nevada District Judges Association in Round 6, and with fluid moves, she taught criminal law and procedure as an adjunct professor in Rounds 7 and 8. In Round 9, she received the Southern Nevada Women Attorney’s annual Miriam Shearing Award in 2021. Then came Round 10 when stepped in for the knockout—her run for a vacancy on the Supreme Court of Nevada. It should come as no surprise that she ran unopposed.

This was no boxing movie. But it is the story of a fighter who beat the odds and won. Justice Bell returned to Bonanza High School, where on January 2, 2023, surrounded by family, friends, teachers, and students, she assumed the office as Justice of the Nevada Supreme Court. The Nevada Supreme Court emblem, hand-made by Bonanza students, served as the backdrop for her investiture where she made her remarks to an audience of smiling faces. Many members of the NCSTJ from all over the country were there to celebrate another milestone of her victorious and exemplary legal career.

Members of the National Conference of State Trial Judges attend Justice Bell's investiture.

Members of the National Conference of State Trial Judges attend Justice Bell's investiture.

Courtesy of Hon. Vivian Medinilla

Maybe Lady Luck or a higher being was along for Justice Bell’s walk to work on that awful day. But one thing is for sure. The truly fortunate ones are those who have been privileged to know her.

Congratulations to our Lady Justice Bell! We thank her for her many contributions to the NCSTJ and her continued commitment to the ABA’s Judicial Division in her new role. We can’t wait for the sequel.

Hon. Vivian Medinilla, Wilmington, DE

Hon. Vivian Medinilla, Wilmington, DE

2022-2023 Chair, National Conference of State Trial Judges

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