Tribute to Joseph A. Kelly, 0820 RIBJ, RIBJ, 69 RI Bar J., No. 1, Pg. 19

AuthorJack Mahoney, Esq.
PositionVol. 69 1 Pg. 19

Tribute to Joseph A. Kelly

Vol. 69 No. 1 Pg. 19

Rhode Island Bar Journal

August, 2020

July, 2020

Jack Mahoney, Esq.

Asquith & Mahoney, PC

We lost a legal giant in May of this year. Joseph A. Kelly passed at the age of 94. His elite legal career extended over 65 years. If there was a litigation hall of fame Joe would have been inducted unanimously on the first ballot.

Joe represented plaintiffs in a trilogy of libel cases all filed within approximately two years of one another in the Providence Superior Court. These cases, Martin,

Healey, and Lyons were tried a combined five times and made their way through the Supreme Court an additional five times.

Martin v. Wilson Publishing Co.,[1] established law that the republisher of a false rumor was equally culpable as was the originator of the rumor.

Healey v. New England Newspapers,2 addressed for the first time when factual assertions couched as an opinion were libelous.

Lyons v. RI Pub. Employees Council 94,3 directly laid out the elements of libel for the first time in Rhode Island.

Joe represented Coach Traficante in the Fiske case brought against the Coach and the football helmet manufacturer. The plaintiff was badly injured during a football game and the plaintiff’s claim was that the coach had instructed his players to improperly tackle opponents. No less than fifteen former players testified that the coach properly instructed them how to tackle and the jury agreed. The plaintiff did recover a substantial verdict against the helmet manufacturer. The verdicts were upheld in the Supreme Court and the law was established regarding the application of comparative negligence and, if applicable, the assumption of the risk defense in a products liability context.4

Joe was never afraid to take on controversial cases. Joe successfully represented former Governor Edward DiPrete regarding ethics violation charges against him. The guilty findings before the Ethics Commission and the Superior Court were reversed by the Supreme Court.5

It was not solely Joe’s legal acumen that established his unblemished reputation. He was an exciting lawyer. You knew something interesting was inevitably going to happen in court. You just did not know what and when.

We were summoned to Judge Joseph Rodgers’ courtroom at 2:00 p.m. that particular afternoon to be assigned a judge in the Healey case. We were sent to Judge Lagueux. That afternoon a...

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