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As the 3rd Marine Division came ashore at Da Nang, Vietnam, small arms fire from the Viet Cong greeted the marines. A young marine sergeant saw the Viet Cong head into a cave, so he moved in with a phosphorus grenade, pulling the pin and hearing the hammer strike. But at that moment, women and children came running out of the cave. Rather than risk their lives, the young sergeant held the grenade between his knees as it exploded. That serviceman was just one of the terribly wounded veterans a young Marine lawyer named Joseph Patrick Kelly remembers meeting during his military service. Kelly eventually returned home to Victoria County to practice law and was appointed to the 24th District Court by then-Gov. Anne Richards in 1993. He says the military prepared him for serving on the bench. It gave him an appreciation for authority, a sense of responsibility in exercising it, and made him comfortable in his roles as an authority figure and someone to whom a higher court can give orders. Kelly’s military career began when he swore into the Marine Corps in November 1963. In the three months before that, his draft deferment had expired, he’d graduated from law school at the University of Texas, and he had passed the Texas bar examination. Rather than waiting to be drafted, he volunteered, choosing the Marine Corps because, as he told a doctor during his pre-induction physical, if he was going to serve in the military he wanted “to be sure and get a real military experience.” After officer candidate school at Quantico, Va., and infantry officers’ basic school, followed by naval justice school in Rhode Island, Kelly says he served as the only prosecutor for the 2nd Marine Air Wing in Cherry Point, N.C. In November 1965, he received orders transferring him to the Marine Corps’ headquarters in Washington, D.C. As counsel to the commandant of the Marine Corps for the physical evaluation board, he represented soon-to-be retired Marines and those who were severely wounded, who came before a board of naval and Marine Corps doctors and officers that determined whether the Marines were fit for duty or entitled to compensation for a disability. During that time, he met severely wounded servicemembers returning home. Due to the strides made in medical treatment since World War II, Kelly says some of them survived wounds that previously would have proved fatal. One such survivor was a young Marine who’d started college before he joined the service. A sniper’s bullet pierced his skull. The brilliance he’d shown previously vanished. Seeing him, Kelly says he “realized you could lose everything with a single gunshot wound.” Family Matters Kelly grew up in Victoria, which is about 100 miles from Corpus Christi. At St. Joseph High School in Victoria, he played football, baseball, basketball and ran track, in addition to holding the offices of class president and student council president. At the University of Notre Dame, he served as two-term president of the Texas Club. Working as student manager for the school’s renowned football team took up a lot of his time, but being so busy helped him develop strong study habits that earned him a degree in accounting and would serve him well in law school. He graduated in the top one-third of his class at Notre Dame on June 4, 1961, and registered at the University of Texas School of Law on June 5. He completed his coursework in 27 months, without taking summers off. In law school, he stayed involved in politics, becoming vice president of his first-year class and president of his mid-year class. Just like at Notre Dame, he graduated in the top one-third of his class. Kelly served in the Marines until May 1967, when he moved back to Victoria with his wife and their first child. By practicing in his hometown, Kelly followed in the footsteps of his father, attorney Joe E. Kelly. During his childhood, Kelly remembers hearing his father talk of his courtroom exploits: “He’d come home from trials, and we’d spend hours in the kitchen, him reading the charge and telling us how he’d argued things.” Of his father, who eventually became a judge, Kelly recalls he “always had good knowledge of the black-letter law, but appreciated what the law intended to do, and he applied that in many cases.” He believes his father’s experience as a plaintiffs lawyer and defense attorney, as well as his “skill of being a quick, accurate judge of people, served him well on the bench.” Back home in Victoria, the younger Kelly practiced banking, business, probate, personal injury, school, oil and gas, and land title law as an associate with Anderson, Smith & Null for four years, and he and his wife welcomed three more children to the family. As Kelly practiced in Victoria, he discovered that having a father sitting on the bench was not always pleasant, especially when that father had a temper. If he felt his son was not properly prepared, he’d chew him out in the courtroom; because the two lived on the same block, his father could later “call me to the fence post and continue my education.” (In those days, the conflict-of-interest rules were different, Kelly says, allowing him to appear in his father’s court.) He then became a partner in Guittard & Henderson, where he met Richard Henderson, who became a close friend and mentor, and Marion M. Lewis, who later became a judge and encouraged Kelly to consider doing the same. While at Guittard & Henderson, Kelly and his wife welcomed their fifth child. Taking the Bench Kelly says he hadn’t considered following his father on to the bench; he wanted to put all his children through college. But on June 2, 1993, Judge Clarence N. Stevenson died suddenly. Kelly says his father and Lewis encouraged him to consider seeking an appointment to the open judgeship. Kelly realized this would be his last opportunity to sit on the same court where his father still heard cases as a visiting judge. Kelly wrote to the governor, telling her he was interested in the appointment. The two met Austin that July. Kelly says the governor wanted to be sure that Kelly would show compassion for those who appeared before him but lacked the background to cope with being in court. Kelly’s reply was simple: His mother had raised him to be a gentleman, and a gentleman would show compassion for those less fortunate than himself. That’s when he says Richards told him he would ascend to the bench as the next judge of the 24th District Court. The elder Judge Kelly swore in his son on Aug. 9, 1993, which was also the elder Kelly’s birthday as well as that of his grandson, the son of the newly minted Judge Kelly. Kelly says voters elected him in 1994, then again in 1996 and 2000; he is running unopposed in the Nov. 2004 election. He says he loves being a judge: “As a judge when you come to town, every day you have significant work to do . . . it is the pursuit of doing the right thing.” Like his colleagues Judge Kemper Stephen Williams of the 135th District Court and Judge Juergen “Skipper” Koetter of the 267th District Court, Kelly serves six counties: Calhoun, DeWitt, Goliad, Jackson, Refugio and Victoria. When asked to describe what it’s like to serve as a circuit-riding judge, he says it’s “[w]onderful. I love it. I practiced in all these courts and know people in all six. Victoria’s the hub of the area. [So] they’re here, and we’re there. Each county has a character of their own.” He believes the system of having three out of four district judges sit in six counties is efficient and the judges are successful in dealing with a large and diverse caseload. As he travels among those six counties, he carries with him the legacy of his father’s service on the bench, as he serves the community in which he, and his children, grew up. Dos and Don’ts Do stand whenever addressing the court, and don’t have sidebars with other lawyers; it’s disrespectful for lawyers to talk to one another instead of addressing their questions to the court. Do call the district clerk’s office in advance if you’re going to be late. The judge is courteous, helpful and accommodating to out-of-town lawyers or those who provide advance notice that they’re running behind. Do try to arrive at a settlement without a hearing. If you absolutely need a hearing for a contested issue, be sure you have a meritorious argument. Do be on time, be prepared, be succinct in your arguments, and be polite and respectful to the court, opposing counsel and all parties. Do be aware that Kelly is an intelligent judge. Don’t misbehave in court, try to color the truth or try to take advantage through unprofessional antics; he’s not the kind of judge who will be impressed by flamboyance, and he’ll see through deceitfulness every time. Do be knowledgeable about the law, know the relevant statutes and be able to cite cases on the spot; the judge won’t yell at attorneys or make them look silly, but he doesn’t tolerate incompetence. Don’t try to have a contested matter heard on Fridays, which are reserved for the uncontested nonjury civil docket. Do be aware that the judge is somewhat formal in terms of procedure, but he’s also easy to get along with and fair. For example, attorneys who are proving up a divorce don’t have to be overly detailed, but they should present cases formally and prove up everything they’re supposed to. Do invest in a green tie and mention the University of Notre Dame. Kelly is Irish and a Notre Dame Fighting Irish fan. Whenever he sees someone wearing green, he always says, “God bless you for wearing the green.” Source: Nine attorneys who have appeared before Kelly

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