THE HONORABLE KENNETH KEELING
Almost four years ago, as I was closing out one chapter of my life (as
a career prosecutor) and beginning a new one (as a criminal defense attorney),
I had the good fortune to meet
Judge Kenneth Keeling of Walker County. It was a difficult time for me, dealing with the uncertainties
of my new adventure and wondering whether I would be able to build a practice
that would allow me to support my family.
I remember calling Judge Keeling at the urging of Judge Travis Bryan. Judge
Bryan had known Judge Keeling for years and apparently had put in a call
to Judge Keeling suggesting that he consider adding me to his list of
attorneys to appoint to felony cases. Judge Keeling took my call and treated
me as if we had known each other for years. He invited me to visit him
in his chambers in Walker County to talk about practicing law.
Judge Keeling had a distinguished and colorful career as an attorney in
private practice and had been on the district court bench in Walker County
for a number of years. I had not met him before, but he received me in
his chambers graciously and warmly. He was generous in his praise and
encouragement and assured me that I would have no problems building a
successful practice and making “a ton of money.”
We spent at least two hours talking about the law, family, and Texas history,
one of his abiding loves. He fascinated me immediately and we became friends.
I have been fortunate in my life and legal career to know several personalities
who were larger than life, and who have had a profound impact on me. Kenneth
Keeling was one of them. Opinionated, erudite, and articulate, Judge Keeling
made an impression. His advice to me proved invaluable and has helped
to shape my way of doing things as a criminal defense attorney.
Every time I visited the Walker County Courthouse over the past four years,
Judge Keeling greeted me with enthusiasm and genuine warmth. I am not
sure why he took such a liking to me, but I will be ever grateful that
he did and that he was willing to share so much with me.
Judge Keeling evoked strong feelings in all who knew him. He was a complicated
and textured personality. He did not suffer fools gladly. He sought out
and mentored attorneys he respected, and they were all the richer for
it. But, he often clashed with attorneys with whom he had disagreements.
He was not shy about expressing his dissatisfaction with those he perceived
to be falling short of his extraordinarily high personal and professional
standards. So, you either revered Judge Keeling or you felt strongly otherwise.
There was not much middle ground. Judge Keeling was not a “middle
ground” kind of guy.
No one can deny, however, that Judge Kenneth Keeling was a force to be
reckoned with. He had a keen legal mind, a strong sense of right and wrong,
and very little bite inhibition. If he was unhappy with you, you knew
it. He was one of the strongest personalities I have experienced in my
life. When I appeared before him in court, I made damned sure I was prepared,
respectful, and professional.
Judge Kenneth Keeling passed away this week. I am a better attorney and advocate for having known him. I will miss
him immensely. The legal world has lost a powerful voice and I, among
so many others, have lost a friend and mentor. I regard myself as incredibly
fortunate to have known him.
Rest in peace, your honor.