Metropolitan News-Enterprise


Monday, January 14, 2013


Page 8



Patrick M. Kelly


California’s State Bar President Is a Rocker and a Gentleman


By JACKIE FUCHS, Staff Writer




Even Kelly’s daughter says that some of her friends initially find California’s new State Bar president “an imposing, scary person.”

But to those who know him, Kelly’s humor, warmth and generosity are just as powerful as his presence, and it’s those qualities, as much as Kelly’s renowned skill as a lawyer, that have led the State Bar’s Board of Trustees to chose him to lead the nation’s largest state bar association at a time when budget crises have resulted in crippling cutbacks to the legal system.

Kelly didn’t set out to be a lawyer. Growing up the middle of three children in San Marino, Arcadia and Glendora, residential suburbs northeast of downtown Los Angeles, he was an Eagle Scout who liked sports and rock ’n’ roll and surfed the waves at Newport Beach, Dana Point and Malibu on his Hobie longboard.

At age 12, he started playing guitar, bringing to his music the same passion and dedication he would later devote to justice. His record player could play 78 and 33 1/3 rpm records at 16 2/3 revolutions per minute, slow enough to let him learn B.B. King and Chuck Berry riffs, which he spent hours practicing until he was able to play along at full speed.

When Kelly was 14, he began playing guitar for money and at 16 had the good fortune to meet Art Wilson, then the leader of the band The Ascots. Wilson asked Kelly to start performing with the band and Kelly eagerly agreed, practicing guitar some days for eight hours at a stretch. The effort paid off, eventually leading to gigs with well-known artists including Jan and Dean, the Beach Boys, the Carpenters, Captain Beefheart, and The Surfaris. He even got to play onstage one night with B.B. King.

Kelly’s leadership abilities and intelligence were apparent at an early age. Even though he was getting paid work as a guitarist, Kelly says he managed to maintain an “A” average in high school and was elected president of his class.

In the mid-‘60s Kelly received his induction notice. He says he felt it was his duty to enlist and recalls finding a line around the block when he went to the Selective Service office. The United States had just bombed Haiphong harbor and the Vietnam War was in full swing.

Kelly says he wanted to go to flight school so he could become an officer in the Marine Corps. but he needed glasses and couldn’t qualify. Instead, the recruitment officer suggested that he become a radar interceptor, a position which required a math test. Kelly reports that he got out his old high school books, and even though he had not been particularly good at math, scored a 100 on the test.

Duodenal Ulcer

After a successful meeting with a three-officer board of review he prepared to go to Quantico, but three-days before leaving received notice that he hadn’t passed his physical exam. Kelly had a duodenal ulcer, the result of too much coffee, alcohol and Dexamyl, a prescription combination of an amphetamine and a sedative marketed in the ‘60s as a diet pill and a remedy for everyday “mental and emotional distress.”

Kelly recounts how he worried that despite flunking his physical, he might be drafted as an enlisted man, so he applied to the Coast Guard, who designated him “1-Y,” meaning he had a medical condition considered “limiting but not disabling.” Those classified 1-Y were “available for military service, but qualified only in case of war or national emergency.” It was the same classification that at one time allegedly kept such luminaries as entrepreneur Donald Trump and Vice President Joseph Biden out of the military. Though Kelly wanted to serve, he says, the designation kept him home.

In the meantime, Kelly recalls, his parents and then-fiancée kept “harp[ing] on a legal career.” He claims he “wasn’t a great singer,” and as the era of surf guitarists was coming to an end, he recognized that the life expectancy of lead guitarists in rock and roll—both literally and career-wise—was not that long. He had seen various friends of his “go down the chute” because of drug usage, and he knew that it was time to listen to his family, he says.

‘An Immense Challenge’

Kelly enrolled in Pomona College, intending to get a degree in either business administration or law, but found going back to school “an immense challenge.”

“Three-quarters of the class were high school valedictorians,” he explains. “I felt all those folks were smarter than I was.”

Despite his difficulties, he made it through with a “C” average, and with the help of a good LSAT score and his fraternity advisor, who had a close relationship with the dean at Loyola Law School, was accepted as a law student. But Kelly, often out performing and distracted by “what you’d imagine,” recalls that he continued to be a mediocre student.

Realizing that if he wanted to succeed, he would have to focus his energies on his studies, Kelly put away his guitar and didn’t play again for almost 18 years. He didn’t even put his music experience on his resume, he explains, thinking it would be considered flighty and that people would associate it with drugs—though at around the same time as he stopped playing he had also given up drugs and drinking.

He says he began to view law school as a challenge, and with a little effort and help from friends, including now-prominent attorneys Larry Feldman and Harland Braun, began to do better. By the time he graduated, he recalls, he had made the dean’s list and received the highest grade in his evidence class.

But Kelly says that every day for 15 years afterward, he regretted his decision to stop playing.

“There’s such a high from being a musician and writing good songs,” he explains, adding that for 10 years he couldn’t even go into a bar because the temptation to go back to playing was so strong.

As a musician with so many contacts in the industry, Kelly considered becoming an entertainment attorney, but soon realized that his greatest gifts were forensics and speaking, which led him to believe he was best suited for trial work.

First Case

His first job out of law school was with Southern Pacific Railroad, an offer he accepted because he knew it would give him trial experience quickly. He tried his first case—a dispute involving a truck rear-ended by one of the railroad’s cars—in February or March 1970, little more than a month after he was admitted to the bar. He won.

The long hours spent preparing for trials soon took their toll, however, and in 1972, Kelly and his first wife divorced. He considers himself fortunate to have gotten out of the marriage with his guitars, of which he now has 15, because his wife was so angry at him that she threw out most of his belongings, including photos of him playing guitar as a teen and a picture of him with Elvis Presley.

In 1980, Kelly joined Wilson Elser, becoming a member of its firm-wide executive committee a year later, a position he held until stepping down last year. He is currently the managing partner of the firm’s western region, with responsibility for overseeing the 133 attorneys in the firm’s Los Angeles, San Francisco and San Diego offices. Kelly’s areas of practice include professional liability, insurance bad faith, product and premises liability, employment litigation, ski resort and railroad liability, and consumer fraud.

Kelly joined the Los Angeles County Bar Association in 1970, and in 1990 was elected its president. In 1979, Samuel Williams, now deceased, the association’s first African-American president (1977-78) and the first African-American president of the State Bar, asked Kelly, then on the Board of Trustees, to serve as founding chair of the committee that developed the association’s new magazine, Los Angeles Lawyer.

Kelly cites the magazine, the first law journal of its kind, as one of his finest accomplishments. Its predecessor publication, the Los Angeles Bar Bulletin, had been what Patricia Phillips, the association’s first female president (1984-85), terms a “boring, dull, legal-like” publication. Phillips, who has known Kelly “since he was almost a baby lawyer,” says that while updating the magazine was “Sam’s brainchild,” it was Kelly who “brought it to fruition,” and made its glossy format “a refreshing portent of the future,” which has since been copied by numerous other legal publications.

Kelly calls the quality of the production and art work “an innovation,” and says that the Western Publishing Association presented the magazine with at least two “Maggie” awards for its early covers.

Revision of the format took many months and the combined efforts of numerous members of the board and advisory committee, many of whom have gone on to become well-known judges and lawyers in the community.

‘A Common Touch’

That ability to bring diverging viewpoints into a single vision is what seems most to impress Kelly’s many admirers. John Van de Kamp, the former Los Angeles County district attorney and former California attorney general, calls Kelly “one of the most agreeable people I know,” adding that he “has—in a nice way—a common touch about him.”

John J. Quinn, a former Los Angeles County Bar Association president (1976-77), terms Kelly proof that “good guys can become great lawyers,” while Kelly’s longtime friend Sheldon H. Sloan, a former Los Angeles Municipal Court judge who has served since as president of the Los Angeles County Bar Association (1996-97) and of the State Bar (2006-2007) describes Kelly as “a wonderful, warm human being.”

As evidence of Kelly’s ability to roll with the punches, Sloan tells the story of a dinner he, Kelly and fellow attorney Robert Tourtelot attended shortly after then-Gov. Pete Wilson named Kelly one of the first two lawyers to serve on the prestigious 11-member Commission on Judicial Performance, which disciplines California state judges and has the power to remove them from the bench. Kelly, who had been telling a group of young lawyers about how much he enjoyed the position, added “and it wouldn’t have been possible without the support of my friends, Bob Tourtelot and Shelly Sloan.” According to Sloan, Tourtelot replied with a straight face:

“Yeah, we wanted to appoint him to a committee to regulate rubbish collectors, but that was too important, so the governor just put him on the Judicial Commission.”

Sloan reports that Kelly turned bright red, but “he has a good sense of humor and doesn’t even talk about his accomplishments.”

Listing all of Kelly’s past and present positions would take at least several paragraphs. They include former president of Los Angeles County Dispute Resolution Services, member of the Chancery Club, fellow of the International Academy of Trial lawyers, past president of the Professional Liability Underwriting Society, president of the Association of Ski Defense Attorneys, founding chair of the Los Angeles County Bar Association Attorneys Errors and Omissions Prevention Committee, member of a six-person delegation sent to Japan by the U.S. Trade Representative in 1991, and California State Bar representative on a delegation to Vietnam. In addition Kelly has presented more than 125 lectures and written more than 80 articles for both industry and legal groups.

‘Bar Junkie’

Brent Braun, the former director of the FBI’s white collar crime program, calls Kelly “the quintessential bar junkie,” though he stresses that he means that in a good way. Kelly, he explains, is “dedicated to improving the effectiveness and stature of the bar and the court.”

Asked how he finds time for so many activities, Kelly says:

“I still feel like a teenager. I work harder than anybody here.”

He adds that while he’s always put in at least 12-hour days, over the years he has also developed “the ability to make decisions and not get bogged down in side issues.” His strategy, he says, is to find good people and delegate—though as Braun notes:

“[He’s] always the driver, even when he delegates. When he’s in the zone he’s like a laser-guided missile.”

Los Angeles Superior Court Judge Holly Fujie, who was State Bar president in 2008-09, also says she admires Kelly’s ability to focus on a task. “He usually smiles,” she explains, “but when the smile goes … watch out—he’s determined to further a goal that’s important.”

Yet for all that laser focus, Kelly’s friends and colleagues are quick to point to his ability to put others at ease. Jeffrey L. Bleich, a former State Bar president (2008) who is currently United States ambassador to Australia, says that Kelly “has statesmanlike appreciation for the integrity of the courts and the need to respect opposing counsel.”

Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys puts it another way:

“[I]f he were a doctor, he’d be the king of the bedside manner.”

Family Man

Of all his many accomplishments, however, the two of which Kelly claims he is most proud are his children, the product of Kelly’s second marriage, in 1975, to Victoria Kelly. Patrick Kelly Jr., 35, is the head of child and adolescent psychiatry at the Johns Hopkins School of Medicine, while daughter Laura Kelly, 30, is a lawyer in Kelly’s firm.

Both of them recall that although Kelly always worked hard and wasn’t there for dinner every night while they were growing up, he never missed the important things, such as birthday parties or recitals.

“I know that he is very concerned about how he balanced family life and career,” Patrick Kelly Jr. says. “He made tough choices and sacrifices for his career, but there’s a reason my sister and I are where we are.

“We are just as proud of him as he is of us and I wouldn’t have wanted a single thing changed. He’s a real success story.”

Kelly’s children add that their father never pushed them to become lawyers. Laura was a “free spirit” who never wanted to be an attorney because as a child she had always seen her father in his suit and carrying a briefcase and it “seemed so uptight.”  Not that Kelly himself was rigid or super strict. Laura Kelly remembers that he always preferred to talk things out with his children and help them reach the decision he wanted. “I still don’t know how he does it,” she says.

Thomas Girardi, a trial lawyer who was Kelly’s trial tactics instructor at Loyola, explains that Kelly just has that talent.

“He has the ability to convince other people that he’s right,” Girardi says. “They walk out of the room thinking that it’s their idea.”

Kelly credits Girardi with some of that ability, explaining that his former instructor taught him practical tricks such as winning over the jury with the opening statement by telling a factual, yet compelling, story in which one’s client is the hero, one which leads the jury down “the yellow brick road through the storyline.”

And yet, as much as he loves winning trials, Kelly is just as keen on mediation, saying:

 “You figure out where the other side is coming from and what you’d expect in their position. If it’s acceptable for your clients, you work toward it.”

Despite long hours at his firm and bar activities, Kelly isn’t all work and no play.  He and his wife, Gail Gibson Kelly, an account executive at a business counseling company, enjoy traveling and spending evenings and weekends together, and not even aches and pains from broken bones and other injuries can keep Kelly off the ski slopes.

He’s also able to squeeze in the occasional game of golf, though as admiring as Kelly’s friends are of his abilities as a lawyer, his golfing skills leave them unimpressed, ironic given that Kelly’s late father, Thaddeus “Ted” Kelly, an engineer at Rockwell International, was a part-time teaching pro.

Kelly “has a picture perfect swing, but he’s a terrible golfer,” Sloan says of his friend, while Girardi’s assessment is even more blunt:

“Any relation to golf is purely coincidental… [Kelly dresses] to blend in with the trees because that’s normally where the ball is.”

Return to Guitar

One “hobby” at which Kelly excels, however, is playing the guitar, which Kelly returned to in 1982, at the urging of Bruce Johnston of the Beach Boys. Since then, he’s sat in with the Beach Boys on over 50 shows, though in recent years the frequency has declined somewhat due to Kelly’s professional obligations. But he still finds time to sit in on the occasional set with the Beach Boys, Papa Do Run Run, and Dean Torrance and the California Surf City All Stars, and he will be playing guitar with the Big Band of Barristers on Jan. 25th when he is honored at the “Person of the Year” dinner. And at least he no longer has to haul his own equipment.

“I’ve gotten spoiled,” he says. “I don’t carry my own amp.”

Kelly acknowledges that he has some heavy lifting to do, however, as California’s 88th State Bar president. He says “the court system, which took years to build, has been torn apart in just three years.” Kelly adds that he’s particularly concerned about the denial of justice to the poor, noting that if you live on Catalina Island and need access to the court, you will now have to travel 26 miles across the sea to Long Beach, which costs $50 and takes three hours.

He’s working with California’s chief justice, Tani Cantil-Sakauye, to try to educate legislators about the “carnage” caused to people as a result of cuts to the judiciary. At Cantil-Sakauye’s invitation, Kelly recently attended a press conference organized by the National Center for State Courts in Washington, D.C., at which chief justices from four states discussed the national court funding crisis with attorneys and legislators.

No Slowing Down

At 69, Kelly insists he has no intention of slowing down. Next year, he will be part of a Beverly Hills Bar Association delegation to Cuba, and he still has Wilson Elser’s western region to manage and the State Bar to lead. And while he declares that he’s proud of his past accomplishments, especially his work for the Judicial Performance Commission and for LA Lawyer Magazine, he says he feels his greatest professional accomplishments are yet to come. Top on his list is helping to restore funding for the courts, but he’d also like to have a hand in “re-injecting professionalism and esprit de corps into the practice of law,” and ensuring that older lawyers and new law school graduates have jobs. Kelly recalls that when he graduated, it was pretty much a given that all new graduates would find jobs, but these days that number has dwindled to one in two.

If it all sounds like a lot, Kelly’s new constituents have faith.

Attorney Howard B. Miller, 2009-2010 State Bar president, says Kelly “has the kind of management and experience in dealing with organizations and public issues that will make him one of the finest state bar presidents we’ve ever had.”

Bleich puts it even more simply:

“I trust him, and I’m glad he’s my president.”


Copyright 2013, Metropolitan News Company