PILOT MOUNTAIN — A Pilot Mountain native was honored with a pair of recognitions, including the evening’s most prestigious award, during the first Women of Justice Awards held on Nov. 15 at the Raleigh Marriott City Center in Raleigh.
The awards reception was hosted by North Carolina Lawyers Weekly, recognizing “women across the state of North Carolina who have demonstrated leadership, integrity, service, sacrifice and accomplishment in improving the quality of justice and exemplifying the highest ideals of the legal profession.”
Lisa Bell, chief district court judge for the 26th Judicial District (Mecklenburg County), was one of five judges receiving a Public Official Award. But to her surprise, Bell’s name was called a second time when she received the evening’s top award, Woman of the Year.
Bell was selected for the award and accompanying trophy from among the 25 award winners recognized in a variety of categories during the evening.
She is the daughter of local resident Cecil Bell and grew up in the Pilot Mountain community. Cecil Bell still recalls the day when a school field trip set the course for his daughter’s career.
“When she was 10 years old, I think,” he remembered, “seems like it was the fourth grade, a teacher took them to the courthouse and she was able to sit in the judge’s chair. After that, she set her sights. She said that started it, she wanted to be a judge.”
Even at that early age, Bell’s obvious intelligence was complimented by a deep inner drive to accomplish.
Her father describes her as a “unique individual, self-motivated and self-driven.”
That character was exhibited as a junior at East Surry High School when she excelled on PSAT testing. The impressive results prompted Wake Forest University to offer Bell an immediate scholarship.
She left high school to enroll at Wake Forest, where she went on to earn a Bachelor of Arts degree in economics. She later earned her Juris Doctor from the University of North Carolina School of Law.
According to her father, Bell began her legal career working for a Charlotte law firm. She went on to serve as an attorney advocate with the Children’s Law Center and later established her own practice.
In 1998, at the age of 31, Bell was encouraged to run for judge and won a seat on the Mecklenburg District Court bench. In January of 2009, she was appointed by North Carolina Supreme Court Chief Justice Sarah Parker as chief district court judge for the 26th Judicial District.
Bell said that receiving the Woman of the Year recognition was a complete surprise.
“It was humbling to be chosen out of that group,” she noted. “With the genuine passion that group has, there is no clear winner.
“It’s affirming to be recognized,” she continued, “for something based on over a decade of work and accomplishment.
“So rarely is the public attention we get about the positive. For me, making the court system better has been a driving force. To be recognized while not striving for recognition, that makes this special. It was pretty awesome and felt really good.”