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Our History: Featured Alumni/ae: Kelly, Joseph L., 1889

Over the decades our graduates have developed distinguished careers as justices, members of Congress, ambassadors, educators, business people, and community leaders in many fields. This site features some of those late graduates.

Arthur J. Morris Law Library

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Joseph Luther Kelly

Judge, Virginia Supreme Court of Appeals

Joseph L. Kelly was born in Marion, Virginia in 1867. His father, John A. Kelly, was a lawyer and judge of the 16th Judicial Circuit of Virginia from 1870 to 1895. Joseph L. Kelly was educated in local primary schools. In 1881, he entered Emory and Henry College, receiving the Bachelor of Arts degree in 1886 and the Master of Arts shortly thereafter. He entered the University of Virginia Law Department in 1887 and received the LL. B. degree in 1889. During his time at UVA, he earned the Jefferson Society medal for best debater.

After graduation, he began law practice in Gate City, Virginia, in association with Rufus A. Ayers, a former Attorney General of Virginia. They continued to practice together until 1895, when Judge Kelly entered into partnership with Joshua Fry Bullitt, Jr. In 1898, he moved to Bristol and the firm maintained offices in both Bristol and Big Stone Gap.

Appointed to the Corporation Court of Bristol in 1909, Judge Kelly held this position until September 1914, when he was elected to the Supreme Court of Appeals of Virginia. He assumed his duties on that court in January 1914, and was elected president of the court in January 1920. He served until January 31, 1924. At that time, he resigned from the court and returned to practice, opening an office in Lynchburg. In 1923, he received an honorary Doctor of Laws from Washington and Lee University. When Judge Frederick W. Sims died in February 1925, Judge Kelly was named to the Supreme Court again. He sat with the court during the March term of 1925 but died shortly thereafter in an accident in his home at Bristol, Virginia.

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