Judicial Profile: Honorable Keith Kelly

In November 2009, Governor Gary R. Herbert appointed Judge Keith Kelly to the Third District Court to serve Salt Lake, Summit and Tooele counties. He currently sits in Summit County. He graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in 1981 and with a master’s degree in 1982, both in economics from Brigham Young University. Judge Kelly then received a juris doctorate degree from Stanford Law School in 1985, where he was an editor of the Stanford Law Review. After law school, he served as a clerk to Judge Monroe G. McKay of the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals for one year. Following his clerkship, Judge Kelly began his career as a civil litigator with the Salt Lake City law firm, Ray Quinney and Nebeker P.C., where he practiced for twenty-three years.

Judge Kelly’s law practice included litigation matters involving corporate, commercial, intellectual property and real estate issues. He also provided representation to various hospitals, doctors and other health care providers. During his legal career, Judge Kelly was elected president of the Young Lawyers Division of the Utah State Bar in 1992, has served since 1998 as a member of the Utah Supreme Court’s Advisory Committee on the Rules of Evidence, and been chairman of the Utah Judicial Council’s Oversight Committee for the Office of the Guardian Ad Litem. Judge Kelly has also served as chair of the boards of trustees of the Disability Law Center, the Utah Parent Center and for “And Justice for All.” He has served as president of the Aldon J. Anderson American Inn of Court. Judge Kelly currently serves as a member of the Utah State Advisory Board on Children’s Justice.

The past two years on the bench have been interesting and challenging for Judge Kelly. He has thoroughly enjoyed dealing with a wide variety of legal issues, hearing from both sides and resolving the issues. He has also enjoyed working with juries. He believes juries take their role in the judicial system seriously and seek to diligently fulfill their role as the finder of fact. The most challenging aspect of his experience on the bench, thus far, has been the very difficult criminal cases, involving victims where the facts are often chilling and difficult.

In preparing to take the bench, Judge Kelly studied the rules of criminal procedure since his legal experience was limited to civil litigation matters. The court also provided an excellent training program for newly appointed judges to get up to speed on procedural and substantive criminal issues.

Judge Kelly has been very impressed by the high level of legal practice in the Summit County bar. He emphasized the importance of personal credibility and encouraged attorneys to always accurately cite to controlling law and the record and to be upfront about weaknesses in their case or argument. Judge Kelly does not always know how he will rule prior to oral argument, but he reads all of the written materials beforehand and tries not to commit to any tentative rulings. He will have specific questions for the attorneys to address and finds their arguments more effective if the attorneys focus on the questions asked, rather than reciting a prepared speech. Judge Kelly has changed his initial leaning or position after oral argument. He prefers that counsel provide copies of the briefs and key legal decisions two weeks prior to oral argument. Judge Kelly also cautions litigators to follow Rule 7 of the Utah Rules of Civil Procedure when responding to statements of fact. Judge Kelly emphasizes that attorneys should not exaggerate their positions or be overly-biased advocates, which tends to undermine their credibility. He appreciates candor, preparedness and brevity in written and oral arguments. With respect to stipulations and orders, Judge Kelly encourages attorneys to have all parties sign both the stipulation and order so he does not have to pull out the stipulation and make sure it accurately reflects the parties’ agreement before signing the order.

Before our interview concluded and he had to sign an important search warrant, Judge Kelly commented again on the excellent advocacy he sees in the Summit County bar. He has the utmost respect for the attorneys who appear before him notwithstanding that some of them have very difficult clients and facts.

Governor Herbert summed up Judge Kelly well when he told the media of his appointment: “Keith has an impressive breadth and depth of experience that will serve the state of Utah well. Keith’s knowledge, thoughtfulness and familiarity with the law will make him a fine jurist.” I had the privilege of working with Judge Kelly for many years prior to his appointment to the bench and I could not agree more. His intellect, fairness and exceptional ability to analyze and communicate complicated legal issues will surely make Judge Kelly an exceptional jurist and a favorite among litigators. The Third District is fortunate to have someone of Judge Kelly’s caliber serving on the bench.

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