The Worst Judge in Harris County?

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A third attorney who specializes in hot check charges says he won't take cases in Bell's court anymore because they ate up too much of his day. "My time is worth more," he says. When potential clients call him with a case in her court, he simply offers free advice over the phone.

But if lawyers gripe about Bell, many of the people streaming out of her courtroom on a recent day say she's fair and understanding. Most of them were involved in landlord-tenant disputes and pleaded their cases without lawyers. As one of them put it, who knows or cares if the judge follows rules of evidence?

"She's sensitive to the needs of the tenants and tries to be fair. People are losing their jobs and she has to play the role of Solomon. When she has to evict families she does as sensitive a job as possible," says David Rubenstein, a landlord who counts himself as a regular in Bell's court. Rubenstein's tenant -- who has just been evicted -- stands nearby. She nods her head in agreement.

Such sentiment probably will have a greater bearing on Betty Brock Bell's future than what lawyers say about her. But the bar poll may have emboldened one would-be challenger. Last week Beverley Clark, who's been in the bail bonding business since losing a run for Congress, called the Press to confirm that she is indeed running for Bell's seat.

The same day that Clark apprised the Press of her plans, Betty Brock Bell called with a question: "Is Bruce Caress behind this story?

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Bonnie Gangelhoff