Cops and Courts, Government

Area lawyers, judges honor retired federal Judge Irene Keeley for 30 years of service

MORGANTOWN – Local lawyers and judges gathered at WVU’s Erickson Alumni Center Thursday afternoon to honor federal Judge Irene M. Keeley, who retired last September after 30 years on the bench.

Keeley was appointed to the U.S. District Court for the Northern District of West Virginia in 1992 and served in Clarksburg. She served as chief judge for seven years. The reception was put on by the Harrison and Monongalia County Bar associations and her former law clerks,

Her colleague, Judge Thomas Kleeh, noted that Keeley presided over 1,900 criminal cases and saw more than 2,700 defendants; she also handled 5,450 civil cases.

He highlighted those numbers, he said, not as a comment on the length of her tenure, but “on the generational impact you had on the bar, the state of West Virginia, on the bench, and frankly the state of the law. … You and your chambers have been incredibly gracious to me.”

Keeley and Kleeh both practiced law at Steptoe & Johnson – Keeley from 1980-1992 and Kleeh from 1999-2018, when he joined her on the bench. Keeley earned her law degree from WVU in 1980. She and her husband, Jack, live in Clarksburg.

WVU President Gordon Gee was traveling but provided some remarks via video. Keeley was a student when he was law school dean, he said. “Irene Keely broke through barriers as one of the first women appointed as federal judge in West Virginia. … I’m very proud to have her as my friend.”

Sen. Joe Manchin also was traveling but offered some written remarks through a staffer. “There is no greater accomplishment than to find yourself in a position to give back to the community you love. Judge Keeley has focused her career on doing exactly that.”

Keeley’s former boss and friend, Robert Steptoe, talked about their long relationship – he’s known her for 50 years as a colleague and friend, he said. She and Jack raised three wonderful daughters and now have four grandchildren.

Her legacy will be as a fine federal judge, he said, but also as a very fine person, “one of the finest people in the community of Clarksburg.”

Jamie O’Brien works at Steptoe & Johnson and clerked for Keeley from 2008-09. He presented Keeley with a gift, a Waterford crystal bowl engraved with her name.

Keeley closed the ceremonial portion of the reception by recognizing her various colleagues and mentors. “It’s very hard for me to speak because I’m so touched,” she said.

She noted that the two Clarksburg seats were created by Congress in 1987, in what is know as the Biden Bill; she was appointed by President George Bush five years later.

She concluded, “God honored me with a wonderful position. Never did I imagine it.” Receiving the appointment “was simply amazing.”

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