MORRISTOWN, NJ - Voting by Telephone is something that sounds like a 2018 initiative but in fact it was the brain child of the sole living former County Clerk's - Joseph J. Bell. On Wednesday evening, April 18, 2018, surrounded by family and his former staff, Bell was honored at current Morris County Clerk Ann Grossi’s “Through the Ages” tribute in Morristown.
Joe Bell served as County Clerk from 1983 - 1988, serving one full term then leaving to pursue a career as an attorney. It was a distinguished term filled with innovation and fresh ideas.
Reminiscing on his time as County Clerk, Mr. Bell spoke fondly about his love of the position and the people that he worked with. He also mentioned other accomplishments made during his tenure. "I was proud to introduce Credit Card Payment Services for Bail and One Day Passport Services during my tenure," Bell stated from the podium.
Taking part in the novelty of the One Day Passport Services were Yogi Berra and Connie Francis who came to Morristown to be part of the excitement. Bell also started a Braille Voting Ballot Project and the Vote by Telephone Initiative. He believes both of these initiatives will continue and come to fruition.
Over the last 279 years, only 31 people have served as Morris County Clerk, with only two - the most recent- being females.
Bell worked with Congressman Dean Gallo, former Governor Tom Kean and the late Frank Lautenberg on the Festivities of the 200th Anniversary of the Constitution at Ellis Island. Dith Pran, the subject of the Academy Award winning movie "The Killings Fields" also participated in the celebration. "It was a special day, honoring those people we have welcomed to the shores of our country," Bell commented.
After leaving the Clerk's office Bell started a law firm in Rockaway with a partner - Bell & Shivas,P.C. Building on his passion for helping those who have suffered from civil injustice, he recently contributed five years of services pro bono to help historian and author Anthony S. Pitch mount a legal challenge in the United States District Court for the Middle District of Georgia to unseal grand jury records dating back to 1946 and one of the most egregious crimes ever committed on U. S. soil.
In what has come to be known as the “last unsolved mass lynching in the United States,” a mob of white men slaughtered four Negroes before a crowd of some 60 onlookers in rural Walton County, Georgia. Since no one was ever convicted of the crime, Bell made frequent appearances before the court arguing that the historic importance of this ghastly event far overshadowed any claim to privacy that could be asserted in the unlikely event any of the perpetrators were still alive. Of special note is that Mr. Bell was required to pass the Georgia Bar before being allowed to argue Mr. Pitch’s case.
The Wall of Honor displaying the plaques dedicated to the former County Clerks is available for public viewing at the Clerk’s office in Morristown. There is other memorabilia on display to help educate the public as to how the office of County Clerk has evolved.