Joe Power Presents Tom Keefe with the 2015 Leonard M. Ring Award

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Thomas Q. Keefe, Jr. Awarded Leonard M. Ring Lifetime Achievement Award

Thomas Q. Keefe, Jr. will be awarded the prestigious Leonard M. Ring Lifetime Achievement Award at the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association (ITLA) convention on Friday, June 5, 2015. The convention will be held at the Hilton Oak Brook Hills Resort in Oak Brook, Illinois.

The criteria of the award are as follows:

“This award is given annually at the convention banquet to someone selected by a committee appointed by the president. The recipient is someone who has devoted, as Leonard did, a substantial part of their life and their practice to ITLA, someone who has done more than is called for. Someone who had the standards of Leonard, the work ethics of Leonard and the commitment to ITLA that Leonard had. At the same time, it keeps alive the memory of Leonard Ring.”

Thomas Keefe, 62, received his undergraduate degree from Boston College. In 1978, Keefe earned his law degree from St. Louis University and was admitted to the Illinois bar.

After law school, Keefe worked for a law firm located in St. Louis for a brief time. Shortly thereafter, he opened his own law office in Belleville, Illinois. In 1982, Keefe became a partner at Cook Shevlin and Keefe.

In 1992, Keefe returned to solo practice until he was joined by his son in 2007. He has been handling high stakes complex lawsuits on behalf of plaintiffs for nearly 35 years. He has compiled a remarkable record including numerous verdicts and settlements. Keefe’s cases range from medical negligence to products liability to vehicle and truck accidents to construction injuries to claims against railroads.

Keefe has been a member of the Illinois Trial Lawyers Association since 1996 and currently sits on ITLA’s Board of Managers. He is also a member of the American Association for Justice (AAJ), the Illinois State Bar Association (ISBA), and served for six months as Dean of St. Louis University Law School.

Keefe is consistently named as one of America’s top lawyers and has been a Super Lawyer since 2007. Every year since 2011, his peers voted him as the Best Downstate Consumer Lawyer, one of the Top 10 personal injury plaintiffs’ lawyers, Top 10 consumer lawyers and Top 10 of all lawyers in the state of Illinois. He has received Martindale Hubbell’s highest rating for more than 30 years. He also received the Mary Alyce Beardslee Award from Madison County Catholic Charities in 2010. He has been the recipient of numerous honors including the Madison County Person of the Year, the Richard Hudlin Memorial Award and the Bartylak Award.

Keefe has given hundreds of lectures and presentations and has written extensively.

“Over the years I have been privileged to represent victims of medical and corporate wrongdoing,” said Keefe. “I sincerely believe many of my successes have largely been due to the quality of the cases, which is why I am so humbled and surprised to receive such a prestigious award.”

Keefe has been married for 36 years and has four children. In his spare time he enjoys exercise and politics.

Past Leonard M. Ring Lifetime Achievement Award recipients include Jon G. Carlson, Rex Carr, Robert J. Cooney, Philip H. Corboy, George J. Cullen, Joseph R. Curcio, David A. Decker, James Thomas Demos, Geoffrey L. Gifford, William J. Harte, Thomas F. Londrigan, Philip F. Maher, Nicholas J. Motherway, Nat P. Ozmon, Eugene I. Pavalon, John G. Phillips, Kim E. Presbrey, Anthony C. Raccuglia, Curt N. Rodin, Larry R. Rogers, Sr. and Michael P. Schostok.

 

Illinois Trial Lawyers Association
Original article can be found here

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Carol Klaine v. Southern Illinois Hospital Services

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‘They got it right’: Jurors acquit Garrett in cold case

A St. Clair County jury found Carlos Garrett not guilty Friday night of the murder of Centerville teenager Nicole Willis, who was found naked and beaten to death in 1989 in a vacant lot a block away from her home.

Garrett sat motionless and then looked down after Circuit Judge Zina Cruse read the verdict.

The jury deliberated for more than three hours Friday.

After the verdict, St. Clair County State’s Attorney Brendan Kelly said: “Just because it may be a hard fight or even a fight we could lose, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t fight. We will continue to fight to bring justice to victims like Nicole Willis, especially when we have this kind of compelling evidence. We owe victims and their families nothing less.”

Special Assistant State’s Attorney Ali Summers told the jury during her closing argument on Friday afternoon that Nicole held the identity of her murderer in her hands.

“She took with her in the grips of her dying hands the identity of the man who killed her,” Summers said.

Summers was referencing the DNA that was found beneath Nicole’s fingernails, who was found sexually assaulted and beaten to death in a vacant field less than a block from her home.

That DNA was a 1-in-3.2 quadrillion match to Garrett, according to Illinois State Police Forensic scientist Jay Winters, who testified in the first-degree murder case against Garrett, 53.

Summers urged the jury during her closing argument to look at the crime scene. There was a trail of Nicole’ belongings from 69th Street to the back of the vacant lot, Summers said, where Nicole was knocked to the ground and her clothes were torn from her body. Summers said the evidence showed that the struggled before she was beaten to death.

And it’s likely that DNA wound up there during that struggle, said Winters, an ISP scientist who specialized in DNA testing.

“A casual explanation for the appearance of Carlos Garrett’s DNA under Nicole’s fingernails would be extremely unlikely,” Winters said under questioning from Summers.

A full male DNA profile found on one of Nicole’ fingernails was linked to Garrett after the profile was loaded into a state database. A DNA match later was made to Garrett, who in 2010 served a prison sentence on a drug conviction.

Nicole, 16, was found in a vacant lot near her home in 6804 Russell Ave. in Centreville on Oct. 4, 1989. She had been beaten in the head and face and sexually assaulted with a stick.

The DNA match was made in 2010 after now-retired Illinois State Police Lt. Dave Wasmuth found the sexual assault kit that contained Nicole’ fingernail clippings, taken at the time of her autopsy.

Winters testified that a full DNA profile was found on the fingernail clippings of Nicole’ right hand.

“Even when people have been scratched, it’s rare to find foreign DNA,” Winters said. “To find a full-profile, that is extremely rare.”

The DNA didn’t belong to just anyone, Summers said, it belonged to a prize fighter, who would have the ability and strength to beat someone to death with his bare hands.

Summers reminded the jury of the testimony of Garrett’s former girlfriend, who testified on Tuesday that Garrett stripped her naked, beat her in the face, abandoned her in a field after sexually assaulting her.

In his closing argument, Thomas Q. Keefe III, Garrett’s attorney, pointed to missing evidence, such as items of Nicole’ clothing and a baseball cap with three hairs that was found under Nicole’ body.

Keefe said the police had “tunnel vision” once they had the DNA match, failing to consider other possible viable suspects.

Keefe also told the jury that Garrett had an alibi.

Jim Schulte, the chief financial officer for Lange-Stegmann, a north St. Louis fertilizer company where Garrett worked at the time of the Nicole’ murder, testified Friday that Garrett would have worked until 4:30 p.m. on Oct. 4, 1989 — the day Nicole was last seen walking home on 69th Street in Centreville. She was last seen at about 4:15 p.m., according to testimony.

Keefe then called Lance Peterson, who works for Metro Bi-State Development Agency, who runs public bus service in St. Louis and St. Clair County.

Peterson testified that the earliest Garrett could have arrived at the 68th and State streets stop would have been 4:53 p.m.

Garrett might have met Nicole on the bus after she was picked up on State Street in East St. Louis, then attacked her as she walked home, police theorized. Nicole rode the bus home from Cahokia High School. Garrett usually rode the bus from his job to his house on 80th Street.

Keefe also told the jury to remember that Garrett, during three interviews with Wasmuth, denied knowing or killing Nicole.

“They have to do better than that,” Keefe said of the prosecutions case.

But in the final moments of her closing, Summers told the jury to recall the testimony of Garrett’s cellmate, who testified that Garrett told him the first time Wasmuth came to question him that Wasmuth was asking about the 1989 murder of a girl who died from a blow to the head.

“Wasmuth didn’t tell him that until the third time he questioned him,” Summers said.

After the verdict, Keefe said: “For five years, Carlos has maintained his innocence, and someone finally listened. While our heart goes out to the Willis family, we will be forever grateful to this jury. They got it right.”

– Beth Hundsdorfer,  Belleville News Democrat
Original Article can be found here

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Reforming Legal Education Could Address Justice Gap

By Thomas Q. Keefe, Jr.

 

Law Day Editorial2A couple years ago I agreed to serve as interim dean of a law school. In the interest of complete disclosure it was, to put it charitably, tempestuous. “Academia Meets Trial Lawyer”…coming to a theater near you…There will be no sequel. But I did learn a few things. Law school is hopelessly broken and the American Bar Association is full of baloney. You see the ABA accredits law schools. There is a Council with 21 voting members — of course 10 of them are law school faculty or deans.

When I was deaning, I remember when the ABA said jump, the law school said “How high?” The ABA permits law schools to charge kids $45,000 a year to be taught by persons many of whom have no teaching certificates, never represented a client, nor set foot in a courtroom, and often have no law license.

The ABA accredits a system which sends young people out the door with $150,000 in law school debt. The monthly VIG is $1,500! For that loan to make sense the graduate would need to make over $180,000 a year. Both the American Bar Association and the law schools know, as moral certainties, that does not happen for anyone — especially the vast “unwashed masses” who are not on scholarship and do not get hired by big law. Half of these kids start at $60,000 a year — assuming they can find a job.

Law school costs way too much and it takes way too long. The single biggest cost of running a law school is personnel wages and benefits, and by far the largest component is faculty salaries.

Tenured faculty make $180,000 a year to teach three courses for nine months, and they pick up another $10,000 to $20,000 in summer stipends to write articles no one reads. Tenured means you are stuck with the teacher and his salary until he decides to retire. Yup, no mandatory retirement.

And don’t forget the deans. My salary (which I donated back to the school) was obscene. The University of Illinois has 11 people with Dean somewhere in their title; Loyola of Chicago has eight.

And the debt is essentially non-dischargeable in bankruptcy. No worries — just default. Bad idea!

The entire amount, with interest, is immediately due. You are subject to late fees, additional interest and court costs. Collection agencies hound you, and kiss your credit score good-bye. Oh, and good luck getting married, buying a home or car, and starting a family. But hey, when they sue you, you won’t need to hire a lawyer.

What makes this state of affairs so utterly intolerable is that these kids graduate and know nothing about
lawyering. My legal assistant has forgotten more than these kids will know after three years of practice.

Why does the ABA allow this to continue? Why, especially when they make these proclamations about “equal access to justice” and “Equal Justice Under Law”?

Does anyone really believe there is equal access to justice in this country? I mean really.

Picture a middle class family of four. Dad works in a factory, and mom is a middle school teacher. He earns $40,000 a year; she earns $35,000.

Then one day dad gets laid off, and he stays laid off. The longer he isn’t working the less dignity he feels, and the depression which he manages with alcohol is starting to give way to anger. Tonight he struck mom. He’ll do it again next week, and the week after.

Mom needs an order of protection. She goes to legal aid, but she makes too much to qualify (the cutoff is about $30,000 a year for a family of four); she then tries several private lawyers, but each tell her it will cost at least $5,000 (which is not unreasonable considering their law school debt). Dejected and hurt, mom goes home. Within a year the family is effectively destroyed.

The Legal Services Corporation reports for every recipient of legal aid, one eligible person is turned away, and less than 20 percent of low income Americans’ legal needs are being met.

And that does not count our hypothetical mom. The lower middle class is completely shut out.

According to Rebecca Sandefur, as many as half of American households confront problems daily which impact shelter, wages, neighborhood safety, and the care and custody of minor children and dependent adults.

Lawyers matter! When people don’t have us, they don’t have access to the courts, and when they don’t have access to the courts they consistently get the short end of the stick.

The National Center for Access to Justice declares “we rely on our courts to secure the rule of law; to halt domestic violence, stop unlawful foreclosures, preserve the unity of families, and in some circumstances block unfair criminal proceedings.” The short end of the stick means losing benefits, jobs, insurance, pensions, and custody of your kids.

I believe all of these law students I met that year want to help others. They are young, ambitious, energetic and idealistic, but they are broke, and without high paying clients they can’t pay student loans, and with no practical skills they aren’t even competent to help.

The problem is not lawyers. And the problem isn’t clients. The problem is an ABA-approved system which trains the former in a way, and at a cost, that min-imizes their ultimate utility to the latter.

We have willing (broke) young lawyers and lots of worthy (broke) clients, and no one is getting fat except Mama Cass (and tenured law professors).

So we need law school to cost less; we need young lawyers to learn how to lawyer; and we need to pay more than lip service to the admonishment from Lewis Powell that “justice shall be the same, in substance and availability, without regard to economic status.”

In 2006 the same body which accredits these law schools urged “federal, state, and territorial governments to provide legal counsel as a matter of right at public expense to low income persons in those categories as adversarial proceedings where basic human needs are at stake, such as those involving shelter, sustenance, safety, health or child custody, as determined by each jurisdiction.”

So why can’t the ABA tell the law schools that two years in the classroom is enough? (It is.) Immediately you have cut costs by one third. Tell the law schools this faculty “legal scholarship” is nonsense. That gets rid of the summer stipends. Even the Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court says no one pays any attention to law journal articles. Tell law schools they can and should hire faculty who actually have “legal” experience. I know so many lawyers who would be thrilled to teach courses at a fraction of the cost.

Do you think Joe Power might know more about the law of evidence, or Bob Clifford about products liability, than some professor? These guys, and their partners, have tried hundreds of cases.

By simply exercising their accreditation power I bet we could get the “classroom” costs to these kids cut by 50 percent.

But much like medical education, prospective lawyers must do a residency — a two-year pro bono internship, after they complete their classroom work.

What if the Supreme Court required all law firms to accept one student for every three full-time practitioners they employ? The student is not paid, but would instead earn law school credit. But they would spend these two years learning how to become lawyers by solely handling pro bono cases.

Just as legal needs are varied, so too are the skills and specialties of our legal community.

Each law firm would register with a Supreme Court appointed “clearing house” where they would declare what areas they have interest or expertise. A student or students are assigned to firms.

When people have a legal need, the cases are assigned to a firm with professed expertise to address that need. Obviously there will be limits on actual assignments of cases per firm. The students could rotate through different firms just as a prospective doctor rotates through internal medicine, pediatrics, neurology, emergency room practice, etc.

This is not a perfect solution, but it is a start.

Everyone wins. Law firms get the deep professional satisfaction of mentoring, providing legal services to the poor, and they can hire “new” lawyers with two years of legal experience. Students are exponentially better prepared to practice law at perhaps half the cost, and they actually get the joy of feeling like a lawyer which is to say helping a fellow human being at no charge.

And most importantly untold thousands of poor and lower middle class people get real legal help in navigating evictions, foreclosures, predatory lending, domestic violence, child support, social security, immigration, and veteran affairs.

Nor is this limited to the civil arena. Our criminal justice system would be completely transformed.

Every felony case is charged by indictment or information. If charged by information, the defendant is entitled to a preliminary hearing wherein the prosecutor calls a police officer to testify about the probable cause justifying the charge. The officer is then subject to cross-examination.

A preliminary hearing is therefore free discovery — an opportunity to pin the police to a narrative that can then be undercut at trial. In most cases failing to ask for one is tantamount to malpractice. But most felonies are handled by understaffed and underfunded public defenders’ offices that lack the time and resources to conduct such hearings, and instead routinely waive them. This is not a criticism, it is an unfortunate truth of today’s practice. And the defendants who would have otherwise benefitted from such a hearing fall squarely within this justice gap.

The good the third and fourth year law students could do for the indigent accused is incalculable. They would review discovery, identify potential issues, draft motions, outline examinations, help negotiate more favorable plea bargains, and assist in trying cases. They would help level the playing field, saving thousands of decent but flawed people from serious consequences. They would help close the gap.

Is there something I’m missing here? Why in the world aren’t we doing something?

Thomas Q. Keefe, Jr., consistently named one of the country’s top lawyers, has handled high-stakes, complex lawsuits on behalf of plaintiffs for nearly 35 years. His clients have been awarded more than half a billion dollars in cases involving medical negligence, products liability, vehicle and truck accidents, construction injuries and claims against railroads. He practices at Keefe & Keefe, P.C. in Belleville and can be reached at isuedocs77@ gmail.com.


– Leading Lawyers insert in Chicago Daily Law Bulletin’s Law Day edition, 2015

 

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