John Q. Kelly - Ivey, Barnum & O’Mara in Greenwich
Attorney News | 2015/01/21 09:27
John Q. Kelly, a lawyer with the venerable firm Ivey, Barnum & O’Mara in Greenwich, specializes in wrongful deaths. Very wrongful deaths. Kelly represented the survivors of Nicole Brown Simpson, allegedly knifed to death by her ex-husband, O. J.; of Natalee Holloway, vanished and believed murdered during a high school class trip to Aruba; and of Kathleen Savio, drowned in her bathtub by ex-husband Drew Peterson.

These notorious cases put Kelly on national TV and made him the most sought-after wrongful death lawyer in the land. Curiously, though, he tends to fly under fame’s hypersensitive radar. People don’t recognize his name or stop him on the street, and there are virtually no news articles that shed light on his illustrious career. Don’t imagine that Kelly is displeased by any of this. He gently resisted our interview request and then expressed a desire to get out of his photo shoot. The only way to explain the paradox—a TV personality who doesn’t invite public notice—is to point out that in twenty-first century America, television is sometimes necessary to further his clients’ cases.

“High-profile, high-stakes litigation is basically a blood sport,” he says. “You either win or you lose, and losing’s not an option.”

“John is an old-fashioned trial lawyer, a very serious lawyer,” remarks Greta Van Susteren, the Fox News Channel host. “Some lawyers are easy to book. John is not, unless it’s for the benefit of his clients. I think he’d much rather be working for them than talking to me on TV.”

“I’ll tell you straight out,” says Bo Dietl, the private investigator and TV personality. “I’ve been in this business a long time, and I’ve seen every kind of lawyer. A lot of them have big names, and they get on TV and blah, blah, blah, they talk a lot of crap. Not John. John is unique. It’s something about the way he presents his cases. He looks honest; he sounds honest; and he is honest. I’ve never seen an attorney who is better prepared and who can break things down for a jury in a way that they understand.”

Kelly has vivid blue eyes set in a tan face, neatly combed chestnut-brown hair and a broad, white, slightly devilish smile. He lacks signs of the enormous ego so common to high-profile lawyers and will venture a heretical opinion when it’s warranted. For example: On Larry King Live he submitted that the case against Amanda Knox, the American convicted of brutally murdering a housemate in Italy in 2007, smacked of an “egregious international railroading,” angering and confusing victims’ advocates everywhere. (“What on earth possessed John Q. Kelly?” read one Internet headline.) But he turned out to be exactly right; Knox’s conviction was overturned in 2011.

Among his own cases, Kelly’s best-known victory came with the civil trial that found O. J. Simpson liable for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and her friend Ron Goldman in 1997. In the criminal trial, prosecutors had presented a pile of evidence showing that Simpson had committed the June 12, 1994 murders—not least Simpson’s blood mingled with that of the victims’ on his gloves, socks, car and at the crime scene. While seemingly every TV and radio in America was tuned to the months-long criminal trial, Kelly quietly filed a civil suit on behalf of Nicole’s estate. He never expected to have to act on it. “Assuming Simpson would be convicted, it would have been just a little footnote, nothing else,” Kelly says. “We never would have pursued it.”

On October 3, 1995, Simpson was acquitted, shocking the nation and polarizing it, disturbingly, along racial lines. For the majority who believed him culpable, the only chance now to hold him accountable would come at the civil trial in Santa Monica. A win for Kelly would not put Simpson behind bars, of course, but it would cripple him financially and might force him to give up custody of his two young children to Nicole’s parents, Lou and Juditha Brown.

“We had plenty of evidence before we started,” Kelly says, “but probably the most compelling new evidence we turned up were the pictures of Simpson wearing the Bruno Magli shoes.” This was a huge stroke of good luck. The bloody shoe prints leading away from the crime scene were made by size 12 Bruno Magli Lorenzos, a rare high-fashion shoe with a soft sole; but prosecutors had been unable to prove that Simpson owned such a shoe. In a civil-case deposition, Simpson himself testified that he would never own such “ugly-ass” footwear. Mistake. Kelly learned in December 1996—deep into the civil trial—that a freelance photographer in Buffalo had gone through his archive and turned up pictures of Simpson at a football game in 1993, wearing exactly the shoes in question. “The photographer developed those pictures the day I went up there—I think it was New Year’s Eve,” Kelly says, grinning at the memory of that eureka moment. (Simpson’s attorneys were obliged to claim the photos were fakes.)

Unlike the criminal trial, the civil one was not televised. A gag order and a no-nonsense judge also ensured an atmosphere of sobriety and restraint, in marked contrast to that of the circus-like criminal trial. The jury awarded total damages of $33.5 million for the deaths of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman. The families did not expect to realize the whole award, but they were able to collect a portion of it from the auctioning of O. J. Simpson’s personal property—including the Heisman Trophy he won in 1968.

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Supreme Court sets stage for historic gay rights ruling
Press Release | 2015/01/19 14:19
The Supreme Court is getting back in the marriage business. The justices agreed Friday to decide a major civil rights question: whether same-sex couples have a right to marry everywhere in America under the Constitution.

The court will take up gay-rights cases that ask it to overturn bans in four states and declare for the entire nation that people can marry the partners of their choice, regardless of gender. The cases will be argued in April, and a decision is expected by late June.

The court chose not to decide this issue in 2013, even as it struck down part of a federal anti-gay marriage law that paved the way for a wave of lower court rulings across the country in favor of same-sex marriage rights.

At that time, just 12 states and the District of Columbia permitted gay and lesbian couples to wed. That number has jumped to 36, almost all because of lower court rulings.

"The country is ready for the freedom to marry today," said James Esseks, leader of the American Civil Liberties Union's same-sex marriage efforts.

The appeals before the court come from gay and lesbian plaintiffs in Kentucky, Michigan, Ohio and Tennessee. The federal appeals court that oversees those four states upheld their same-sex marriage bans in November, reversing pro-gay rights rulings of federal judges in all four states. It was the first, and so far only, appellate court to rule against same-sex marriage since the high court's 2013 decision.

Arizona sheriff could face civil contempt hearing in court
Court News | 2015/01/19 14:19
An Arizona sheriff could face a civil contempt hearing in federal court for his office's repeated violations of orders issued in a racial-profiling case.

U.S. District Judge Murray Snow held a telephonic conference Thursday and told Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio's attorneys that the six-term sheriff may face an April 21-24 hearing.

But a top lawyer with the Arizona chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union said Friday that Snow stopped short of officially ordering the hearing. The judge has given both sides until Jan. 23 to file additional paperwork.

At a Dec. 4 hearing, Snow sent strong signals that he intended to pursue contempt cases that could expose Arpaio to fines and perhaps jail time.

Lawyers for the sheriff didn't immediately return calls for comment on the possible civil contempt hearing.

Dan Pochoda, senior counsel for the Arizona ACLU, said Friday that Arpaio's office could face sanctions or fines for not following court orders and "fines to deter future bad acts and fines to compensate anyone permanently harmed" in the racial-profiling cases.

Court won't hear free speech challenge to metals dealers law
Attorney News | 2015/01/12 15:40
The Supreme Court won't consider the constitutionality of an Ohio law that bars precious metals dealers from advertising without a license.

The justices on Monday declined to take up an appeal from Liberty Coins, a gold and silver dealer that claims the law violates the free speech rights of businesses.

Ohio officials say the 1996 law was enacted to protect consumers from theft and help police track down stolen wedding rings, gold bracelets and other items resold at stores that buy gold and silver merchandise.

A federal judge in 2012 ruled the law unconstitutional because the state failed to prove the license requirement was effective in curbing theft, fraud and terrorism. But the 6th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed that ruling last year.

High court won't hear challenge to Vermont campaign law
Legal Business | 2015/01/12 15:40
The Supreme Court won't hear a challenge to part of Vermont's campaign finance laws that impose contribution limits on political action committees.

The justices on Monday declined to hear an appeal from the Vermont Right to Life Committee, an anti-abortion group. The group argued that Vermont's campaign finance registration, reporting and disclosure requirements for PACs were too broad and unconstitutional.

The group argued that a subcommittee it created should not be subject to Vermont's $2,000 limit on contributions to PACs because the subcommittee does not give money directly to candidates and makes only independent expenditures.

But a federal judge rejected those arguments, finding that there was no clear accounting between the two committees. A federal appeals court agreed.

Nebraska court could hold up Keystone pipeline
Court News | 2015/01/08 13:14
The Republican-led Congress appears ready to approve the Keystone XL oil pipeline, but no matter what actions are taken in Washington, the entire 1,179-mile project could be delayed until Nebraska signs off on the route.

After several years of intense debate, the routing process is before the Nebraska Supreme Court, and depending on how the justices rule, months or years could pass before construction begins in that state.

Even if approval comes from Washington and the high court, opponents are looking for new ways to block the project, including filing a federal lawsuit on behalf of Native American tribes in Nebraska and South Dakota over the possible disruption of Indian artifacts.

The court is considering whether an obscure agency known as the Nebraska Public Service Commission must review the pipeline before it can cross the state, one of six on the pipeline's route. Gov. Dave Heineman gave the green light in 2013 without the involvement of the panel, which normally regulates telephones, taxis and grain bins.

The justices have given no indication when they will render a decision.

President Barack Obama has said he is waiting for the court's decision, and the White House on Tuesday threatened to veto the bill in what was expected to be the first of many confrontations with the new Congress over energy and environmental policy.

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