In one of his last decisions from the bench, Judge Randall W. Kelley had a cheerless countenance Monday afternoon as a man convicted of shooting another to death sat before him.
While the defendant, Lamarc Garrett, was mentally ill with paranoid schizophrenia, Kelley focused on another aspect of the case: the gun that the six-time felon had in his possession.
"Once again, (we see) the evil of access to weaponry," the judge said as he sighed.
Kelley retired from the bench Wednesday, having decided cases in St. Clair County since 2008. Prior to that, he was a prosecutor and public defender. In an interview on Tuesday, he reflected on his nearly 40 years in law, including the last decade as a judge.
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"I would hope that when people viewed my tenure on the bench, I was viewed as a judge who worked hard every day — and did everything possible to make the right, and more importantly, fair, legal decision."
Kelley said he is open to taking any kind of case as a solo practitioner after his retirement. As strongly as he feels about guns, he said he hadn’t yet giving any consideration to using his legal skills in that area although it could be a possibility.
“I’m never going to change my feelings about guns. ... They’ve always scared me,” he said. He did not grow up as part of a gun culture, he said, and never hunted.
Kelley has friends who are hunters, and he says he understands the arguments for the Second Amendment.
“I understand the passions that people have, and I just don’t agree with them,” he said.
“There are so many times there are altercations between people that if there weren’t a gun available, it wouldn’t have resulted in a person’s death,” he said, adding that he understands it wouldn’t stop fights or people getting hurt. “They’re there for killing, and I just don’t agree with the need.”
Brian Flynn, an attorney in Belleville who was on the team representing Garrett in Monday's sentencing, said his first case before Judge Kelley was in the traffic and misdemeanor courtroom in 2009. Sometimes the judge would raise his voice, in an effort Flynn believes was to help young attorneys develop their skills.
"He was always willing to provide feedback on how we did after a trial and made sure we knew his door was always open," Flynn said.
Judge Kelley has "a great sense of humor," St. Clair County State's Attorney Brendan Kelly said on Wednesday.
"Sometimes people think Judge Kelley is my dad or brother, even though our names are spelled differently, but that's fine by me. He's an honorable member of the bench and bar," Kelly said.
Judge Kelley said he has not had a decision reversed by the appellate court.
"So they don't think I should have done anything differently," he laughed.
More seriously, he said he was comfortable with his decisions although sometimes wanted to reconsider bond amounts.
"I was in family law for five years, and I ended up being very comfortable with the decision-making process," he said. "I'm not saying I was right, but i never did anything personally vindictive or professionally vindictive."
He’s retiring from the bench, but not from the law. He plans to re-enter private practice, which will allow him more flexibility to engage with a foundation in his son’s name. Mike Kelley died of cancer at age 28; he had beaten leukemia when he was 3.
“He grew up to a be a healthy, strapping kid … doing good work for good causes,” Kelley said of his middle child.
“I can get more involved now, as a judge there are a lot of restrictions on what you can do,” he said, declining to say more about the foundation on his second-to-last day in office.
Kelley’s surviving family includes his wife, son, daughter and granddaughter. His son is a lawyer in Edwardsville “who does no criminal law at all” and his daughter is a legal secretary.
“My wife and I raised three children in this community; I certainly believe that they have learned right and wrong.”
What is right, he says, includes that every person get fair legal representation as promised in the Constitution.
“I believe in that," he said. "And I believe that I, along with a number of other lawyers, I was able to provide a charged defendant with the best opportunity to defend against those charges."
Mary Cooley: 618-239-2535, @MaryCooleyBND