James E. Keller

KELLER James E., born August 13, 1942, in Harlan County, Kentucky, husband of Elizabeth M. Keller, died Monday, June 2, 2014. He attended Eastern Kentucky University, where he played football and, in 1965, graduated from the University of Kentucky College of Law. After a decade of private practice with his law school and best friend, Henry E. Hughes, he was appointed in 1976 as Judge of the Fayette Circuit Court, First Division, where he served for 23 years. He had the great fortune to serve with remarkable colleagues, Judges Armand Angelucci, L.T. Grant, George Barker, Charles Tackett and N. Mitchell Meade, all of whom were on the bench at the time Judge Keller was appointed to join them. As Circuit Judge, he had an immeasurable impact on the court system and personally on the lives of court personnel, lawyers and litigants. Judge Keller's judicial career was marked by an open door, thoughtful and reasoned rulings, innovation, progress and collegiality. As newer judges replaced those with whom he initially served, Judge Keller passed forward the wisdom of the previous generation. He gave the Fayette Circuit Court Bench continuity and a reputation of being the finest in the Commonwealth. His service to the community and the legal system while Circuit Judge have been recognized by many. His awards include: Henry T. Duncan Award by the Fayette County Bar Association (1989), in recognition of integrity and professionalism; 5th Annual K.I.D.S. Award by Kentuckians Involved in Dependents' Support (1990), for outstanding contributions to the children of the Commonwealth of Kentucky; Henry V. Pennington Outstanding Trial Judge Award (1994) presented by Kentucky Academy of Trial Attorneys; Mediation Center Award (1992) recognizing Judge Keller as the "Father and Founder of the Mediation Center of Kentucky"; Law Day Award by the Fayette County Bar Association (1998) for efforts in enhancing Lexington's observance of our legal heritage; Blue Ribbon Doll Award, presented by Governor Paul Patton and the Kentucky Council on Child Abuse (1998) for judicial support and leadership of child abuse prevention efforts; Fayette Drug Court Award in appreciation of outstanding contributions to the success of the program. While Circuit Judge, he founded the Fayette Drug Court and the Mediation Center of Kentucky. Although not an exhaustive list, these awards and iniatives demonstrate the breadth and significance of his contributions to the Kentucky Court of Justice and the people it serves. In 1999, Judge Keller was appointed to the Supreme Court of Kentucky, a position to which he was twice subsequently elected. Justice Keller persisted in his efforts to push Kentucky to the forefront of the law, bringing Frankfort the same collegial spirit that marked his tenure on the bench in Fayette County. He sincerely appreciated the friendships he made among the Justices and court personnel at the Capitol. By the time of his retirement from the bench in 2005, Judge Keller's accomplishments had been recognized by Eastern Kentucky University and the University of Kentucky College of Law, which inducted him into their Hall of Distinguished Alumni (EKU 2002) and Hall of Fame (UK Law 2005). When he retired from the bench, Judge Keller did not retire from the law. In 2005, he joined the firm Gess Mattingly & Atchison, where he had a successful mediation and appellate practice and, again, close relationships with colleagues and staff. His office, directly across Short Street from the old Fayette County Courthouse where he served for 23 years, continued to be a place lawyers and friends gathered seeking his counsel, both legal and personal. His door was ever open and he always made time for those needing advice or an understanding friend. Though most widely recognized for his legal and judicial career, Judge Keller's life was far more expansive. He loved fishing and boating at his camp on Lake Cumberland, where he taught all of his children's friends to waterski. He took enormous pride in his children and grandchildren and, although reluctant to discuss his own many achievements, he would not hesitate to talk about theirs. He enjoyed talking about and being involved in politics, and socializing with his neighbors, colleagues and friends. And, he loved his faithful dog, Tucker. One of Judge Keller's greatest gifts was his ability to see what was special and good in each person he met; he treasured all of his friendships and relationships. Other than his love of family, he loved the law above all else. He talked about it, he was part of it, and he lived it. The family extends thanks to Henry Hughes and Elizabeth Hughes for their support and assistance during a difficult time. Judge Keller and Beth thought of Elizabeth as a third daughter, and he was pleased to practice law with her after his retirement from the bench. He is survived by his wife, Beth; his daughter Regina Keller, Santa Cruz, California; his daughter Denise (Kirk) Harrod and grandchildren, Tighe Harrod and Scarlet Harrod, Frankfort, Kentucky; and his sister-in-law, Sandra Keller. A memorial service will be held 2pm Sat at Kerr Brothers Funeral Home - Harrodsburg Rd. by Rev. Carol Devine. Visitation will be 10am-2pm Sat at the funeral home. Contributions may be made to the Lexington Humane Society, 1600 Old Frankfort Pike, Lexington, KY 40504, Hope Center, 360 W. Loudon Ave., Lexington, KY 40508, or the Fayette County Bar Foundation, 219 N. Upper St., Lexington, KY 40507.

Funeral Home

Kerr Brothers Funeral Home
3421 Harrodsburg Road Lexington, KY 40513
(859) 252-6767

Published in Lexington Herald-Leader from June 4 to June 5, 2014