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Kenneth Bell named to Supreme Court

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Kenneth Bell named to Supreme Court

Senior Editor

Quoting James Madison and vowing to bring a philosophy of restraint, First Circuit Judge Kenneth B. Bell has been named to the Florida Supreme Court by Gov. Jeb Bush.

“I am excited to appoint Judge Bell to our Supreme Court, most importantly because he will bring to the court a model temperament and judicial philosophy,” Bush said at a December 30 press conference where he announced and introduced the new justice.

“Judges have a really difficult job,” Bush said. “They must balance judicial independence, which is a guiding principle for democracy, with a respect for the primacy of the legislature and executive branches as policymakers. They must guard our individual rights. . . but not at the expense of our collective right to self-government. And perhaps their greatest challenge is to resist the urge to substitute their own values and policy preferences for those embodied in the law.”

Bell, 46, thanked the members of the Supreme Court Judicial Nominating Commission and Bush and his staff for their investigations and interviews that led to his nomination and appointment. He also outlined his goal for service on the state’s highest court.

“My vision is a court that promotes an unassailable public confidence in the court’s exercise of its judicial powers, and to this vision I will fully devote all of my energies,” Bell said.

Asked about his judicial philosophy, he replied, “The simplest way to express it is as James Madison said a long time ago: The courts exist not to exercise the will of man, but to judge them at law.”

Referring to Bush’s remarks on judicial activism, Bell was asked if he thought the courts had gone too far in some rulings.

“I think there are different judicial philosophies,” the new justice said. “Mine is a judicial philosophy of principled restraint. I do not believe in activism from the courts, either from the left or from the right.”

Bell, a Pensacola native, got his undergraduate degree from Davidson College in North Carolina, and his law degree from Florida State University. He went into private practice in Pensacola, doing primarily real estate work, until he ran and was elected a circuit judge in 1990.

Since going on the bench, he has handled more that 27,000 cases of all types, including imposing two death penalties.

Bell has also been active in community activities, especially on juvenile delinquency issues, school violence prevention, and drug rehabilitation programs.

Wife Victoria accompanied Bell to the press conference, as did their four children, Bradley, 17, Sarah, 12, Stephanie, 10, and D. Reed, 8. Also at the event were his parents, Reed and Nell Bell.

Bell will replace Justice Leander J. Shaw, who has served on the court since 1983. “On behalf of all Floridians, I would like to thank Justice Shaw for his distinguished service to the people of our state,” Bush said.

Bell was a finalist earlier this year to replace retired Justice Major B. Harding, but Bush chose Miami appellate attorney Raoul Cantero, who became the first Hispanic on the state Supreme Court. This time Bush chose Bell over First District Court of Appeal Judges Philip Padovano and Peter Webster and Fourth Circuit Judge Waddell Wallace. Padovano and Webster were also finalists to replace Harding, while Wallace did not apply for that seat.

Under the constitution, the replacement for Shaw had to come from the jurisdictional area of the First DCA.

Bush has always touted diversity in his judicial appointments, and he found some diversity elements in this appointment, even though the JNC had sent him the names of four white men. Shaw was the second African American appointed to the Florida Supreme Court, and the first to serve as chief justice.

Bush noted that Bell is the first justice to come from the area west of Tallahassee since 1917, providing geographical diversity to the court. (Court spokesman Craig Waters told reporters Bell will be only the fifth justice from Pensacola, and the first from that city since 1904 to sit on the Supreme Court.)

And he will become the only justice with trial court experience, a trait the court lost when Harding, who was a circuit judge before joining the court in 1990, retired. “That kind of perspective, I think, is important on the highest court, given the awesome responsibility that circuit judges have,” the governor said.

The other justices either had only appellate experience or came to the court directly from their law practices.

For his part, Bell said he was proud to have the opportunity to continue giving back to a community and state that had given him so many opportunities, an ethic he said was instilled by his parents.

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