LegalWeek Leaders In Tech Law Access to Justice Award
LegalWeek Leaders in Tech Law honored Judge Rachel Bell and the General Sessions Music City Community Court (MCC), Division VIII, Davidson County (Nashville, TN) with the Access to Justice Award for 2021. This award recognizes individuals and firms for being innovators in legal technology who either by collaboration or use of technology are making an impact in the community through pro bono efforts.
Judge Bell and the MCC were recognized for several initiatives, especially their most recent one — the L.E.G.A.C.Y. Housing Resource Diversionary Court (HRDC), which provides tenants and landlords a streamlined way to navigate housing disputes, particularly those whose income was affected directly by COVID-19 resulting in the inability to receive or pay rent. Judge Bell worked for more than a year to create this first-of-its-kind HRDC in the state of Tennessee. The HRDC was created in partnership with the Circuit Court Clerk, Metro Action Commission, Metro Department Housing Authority. United Way of Middle Tennessee and the Nashville Conflict Resolution Center. The program empowers tenants through financial literacy, budgeting, access to job-readiness training, workforce development and employment assistance. The goal is to connect tenants to community-based agencies that help them maintain save housing, progress to marketplace rent and ultimately move into home ownership.
Bass, Berry & Sims attorney Marc Tahiry worked alongside Judge Bell and the General Sessions Court of Metropolitan Nashville & Davidson County for three months beginning in September 2020 as one of the firm's Pro Bono Fellows, appointed by the court to serve as a specialized law clerk for eviction proceeds. The fellowship arose in direct response to the serge of eviction filings caused by the loss of jobs resulting from the COVID-19 pandemic. Following this fellowship, the firm was honored to nominate Judge Bell and the MCC for the award.
When asked about the challenges faced in the last year, Judge Bell said, "L.E.G.A.C.Y. court was based on better use of technology to identify appropriate cases for diversion, to connect litigants and mediators and to hold virtual hearings to resolve cases. This illustrates sustainability for remote proceedings which can be more efficient and potentially provide better access. However, the limited access to technology in communities most discriminated against by the justice system means that the courts cannot shift to remote proceedings and availability and expect access. Continuing to be present in the community and working with trusted community partners will continue to be essential.
Article by Bass Berry Sims