Law association honors judge with courtroom portrait

Melissa Crowe By Melissa Crowe

Dec. 13, 2012 at 6:13 a.m.

Judge Joseph P. Kelly's grandson, Kurt Patrick LaCoste, 3, of Flint, stands proudly,  wearing his grandfather's kelly-green bowtie to the portrait ceremony. Kelly is in the green necktie.

Judge Joseph P. Kelly's grandson, Kurt Patrick LaCoste, 3, of Flint, stands proudly, wearing his grandfather's kelly-green bowtie to the portrait ceremony. Kelly is in the green necktie.   Melissa Crowe for The Victoria Advocate

Although a new judge will preside over the 24th District Court next month, the Honorable Joseph Patrick Kelly will forever observe the judicial process.

The Victoria Bar Association hosted a portrait ceremony Thursday honoring Kelly, 72, who will retire Dec. 31, after almost 20 years in the courtroom.

"The experience of being a judge, for me, has been one of the top experiences of my life," Kelly said.

Amanda Pierce, president of the association, said she has worked with Kelly on the bar since 2009.

She called him a mentor. When she was 23 years old, she took a summer internship in his office.

"He's a very good mentor, and good at teaching you because he was mentored by his family," Pierce said.

She said he helped her apply what she learned in her law school textbooks to what happens in the courtroom - "the human factor," she said.

With the help of his wife, Abbie, Kelly unveiled the portrait, which will hang alongside the courtroom's two former judges - Clarence Stevenson, who served from 1979 to 1993, and Kelly's father, Joe E. Kelly, who served from 1965 to 1978.

Kelly said it has been "a great privilege," as well as a "labor of love" presiding over the 24th District Courtroom.

"Everything I have ever done has been done with (the knowledge that) I have the responsibility to do these duties and do them right," Kelly said.

He graduated from St. Joseph High School in 1957. He went on to earn his undergraduate degree from the University of Notre Dame in 1961, where he was also a football manager, and earned his law degree from the University of Texas in 1963.

From March 1964 through 1967, Kelly served in the U.S. Marine Corps., a period of time that "greatly affected my judgeship," he said.

It gave Kelly an appreciation for authority and responsibility.

The late Gov. Ann Richards appointed Kelly in July 1993 to preside over Victoria, Calhoun, Jackson, DeWitt, Goliad and Refugio counties.

Kelly recalled a specific question the governor asked: How would he help families who have loved ones in trouble understand the legal process?

"I told her my mother had raised me to be a gentleman, and my mother would have never allowed me to let that situation go unattended to," Kelly said.

He took the oath of office, administered by his father, on Aug. 9, 1993, was elected in 1994 and every subsequent election in which he ran.

Kelly said he considers his father to be his mentor.

"I haven't seen anything on the bench I haven't at least brushed upon with my father," Kelly said.

Throughout his career, he worked a number of capital murder cases. Two from Jackson County stand out - the case of Ronald Ray Howard, convicted of the 1992 murder of a state trooper, and the conviction of LeJames Norman for a triple homicide in Edna in 2005.

"Those are the cases I poured my heart and soul into," Kelly said. "I pray and I go to work and I take it seriously."

He said making the decision to retire 14 months ago was difficult.

"I wanted to finish out the term," he said. "I like being a judge."

He said he has "every confidence" in his successor, Jack Marr, whom he worked with for 17 years before becoming a judge.

He thanked his wife and three children for encouraging and supporting him to further his career.

He said he is often asked why he worked so long and how his background became so diverse - from football to military to law.

"I had a mother who said, 'You can do anything you set your mind to,' and a father who never let me quit," Kelly said.



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