The 16-year-old needed a heart transplant, and he had a difficult choice: Should he choose the heart of a 67-year-old judge, a 37-year-old football player or an 18-year-old basketball player? "That's an easy task," the youth told his doctor. "The 67-year-old heart that belonged to that judge has never been used." With that story, which he ad mitted borrowing from Benjamin Hooks of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, State Supreme Court Jus tice Howard E. Bell of New York City began his Friday night speech about judges who did use their hearts in their efforts to stamp out racism in the justice system.
Bell, in the keynote address to about 250 people at the sixth an nual awards dinner of the Minori ty Bar Association of Western New York, told stories about for mer U.S. Chief Justice Earl War ren and many lesser-known judges who used their positions on the bench to help further the cause of equal justice for all races. Warren, for example, skillfully delayed the vote in the 1954 Brown vs. Topeka Board of Edu cation case until he could garner the support of the Southern judges in the unanimous verdict that struck down the concept of "sepa rate but equal," Bell pointed out. Then Bell, the judge in the highly celebrated "preppie mur der" trial in New York City earlier this year, aimed his bitingly can did remarks at New York's courts. "Yes, there is racism in the jus tice system of the State of New York," he said. "Any man or woman who says it doesn't exist is asleep, fast asleep." Bell cited several encouraging developments in the statewide fight against racism, including the determination of Chief Judge Sol Wachtler to eliminate it from the court system. He called on his fellow attor neys and judges to report any cases of racism to the New York State Commission on Minorities, which is studying the problem and plans to issue a report. "A man or woman is a fraud on the justice system if he sees racism or classism practiced and doesn't report it," Bell told the group. "No man has a right to consis tently violate my constitutional rights and expect to hold public office," he added. "He shouldn't be able to feed from the public trough if he violates any rights because of race." Bell recently was elected chair man of the National Bar Associa tion's Judicial Council, which was formed 17 years ago to alleviate racism and classism in the justice system. "We have made very little progress, of course, but we are still determined to continue until it is eliminated," he said in an inter view before the dinner. "We'll never eliminate it unless all of us work as a team in an effort to eliminate racism," he added. "When any person in the office of court administration practices racism, they don't do it only to me, but to generations that will follow." Although racism was his main topic, Bell agreed to comment on the preppie murder trial that made big headlines earlier this year. In April, Bell sentenced Robert Chambers to five to 15 years in prison for strangling an 18-year- old woman during a sexual en counter in Central Park. Cham bers had pleaded guilty to a re duced charge of first-degree manslaughter on the ninth day of jury deliberations in the celebrated case. "Robert Chambers has been convicted by his plea of guilty, and I believe he received a fair trial," Bell said in the interview. "I'm sure all of the parties -- at least I have been informed by the district attorney who tried the case and the defense counsel -- be lieved I did everything I could to give him a fair trial, and he re ceived a fair trial." Following Bell's speech, the Mi nority Bar Association honored three award recipients: Rosa Gib son, Community Service Award; Mason Ashe, John L. Hargrave Law Student Scholarship, and Jer ry McGrier, Lawyer Service Award.