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Former Atty. Gen. Bell Content to Skip Politics

November 08, 1987|MARC RICE | Associated Press Writer

ATLANTA — In recent months, Griffin B. Bell has represented Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young in a federal grand jury investigation and testified before Congress on behalf of Supreme Court nominee Robert H. Bork.

Despite the exposure, President Jimmy Carter's attorney general says he avoids politics for the most part and has no plans to re-enter public life.

"I don't ever intend to go back into government," said the 68-year-old Bell, now a senior partner in the Atlanta law firm of King & Spalding.

"Age is getting to me--I feel good physically and mentally, but you can't keep changing your careers."

Though he is out of public life, Bell continues to monitor government and keep an eye on major investigations. And often these days he doesn't like what he sees.

Bell laments what he sees as a rigid partisanship coloring almost every issue between Congress and President Reagan over the last few years.

"Nothing is happening except everyone's being investigated," he said.

"And the other thing that seems to be missing from government life today is there seems to be no civility," Bell added. "Everybody is after everybody else. I'd like to see the day when we become more civil to each other."

He said the Young case, prompted by allegations of drug use against civil rights activist Julian Bond and city officials' response to the accusations, represented some of the most disturbing aspects of government and the legal system.

Subject of Probe

Young was the subject of a grand jury investigation into possible obstruction of justice. U.S. Atty. Robert Barr announced in June that there was not sufficient evidence to press charges against Young, a former congressman and United Nations ambassador in the Carter Administration.

Bell faulted the news media for stories that "tend to say he's a user of drugs. He's never used drugs."

He also criticized prosecutors for discussing the case with the media.

"I always had the view that you shouldn't talk about a pending matter," Bell said. "You don't even ever admit that there is an investigation.

"There's a good reason for that. The reason is if the investigation turns out to be that you haven't done anything wrong or the grand jury doesn't indict you, why should it ever have been a news item?"

A native of Americus, Ga., Bell served 15 years on the U.S. 5th Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans before returning to private law practice in 1976. The Mercer University law school graduate was attorney general from 1977 to 1979.

Bell's confirmation hearings for attorney general included attacks on his judicial record in civil rights cases and were considered the most controversial of any Carter Cabinet nominee.

"I was afraid the Senate wouldn't confirm him, but I'm glad they did. I thought he was the one bright star of the Carter Administration," said former Georgia Gov. Ernest Vandiver, whom Bell served as chief of staff from 1959 to 1961.

'Heart of a Matter'

"His credibility is not without reason--it's been proven over a long time," said Atlanta lawyer Terry Adamson, who was a top aide to Bell in the U.S. Justice Department.

"He has an amazing faculty as a lawyer to cut to the heart of a matter, and offer a fresh and insightful approach to the matter," Adamson said. "He is governed by a strong integrity that I think throws people off guard, and aggravates people sometimes.

"I think he aggravated Carter sometimes as President."

Bell has not shied from controversy since leaving the Cabinet eight years ago.

Besides testifying before the Senate Judiciary Committee on behalf of Bork, whose nomination was rejected, Bell announced recently that he and two other Atlanta lawyers have set up a foundation to send money for legal aid to political prisoners in Nicaragua.

He recalls his term as attorney general as "the best job I ever had" and he remains close to the action in government by maintaining an office in Washington.

Though he says he generally avoids political activity, he helped Hamilton Jordan, another Carter Administration alumnus, in his unsuccessful 1986 U.S. Senate campaign and is among those who tried unsuccessfully to persuade Sen. Sam Nunn (D-Ga.) to run for president.

He said he does not plan to play any part in the 1988 Democratic National Convention, which will be held in Atlanta.

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