March 27, 2009

Trial Lawyer Speaks of Life in Federal and State Court

Print More

Trial lawyer John J. Kenney regaled his audience with tales of his life’s work at the Cornell Law School yesterday as part of the Henry K. Korn Lecture Series in Art, Commerce and Ethics of Contemporary Law.
When speaking about the motivation behind his lecture, Kenney stated on the Cornell Law School website, that he would like to instill in his law students the excitement he feels every day when he gets up.
The lecture, titled “Wanted: Dead or Alive, and Other Tales of a Trial Lawyer,” consisted of several exciting experiences from Kenney’s 38 years of work as a litigator in state and federal trials and appeals.
Henry K. Korn ’68, the benefactor of this lecture series, was also present to introduce the lecturer. Korn explained the purpose of this lecture series.
“Although the [lectures in the series] have nothing to do with substantive law, the objective is to bring to Cornell University attorneys of huge stature … and explain to you how they got equipped to deal with difficult issues,” Korn said. “[The lecture] will address the fundamental pressures that lawyers face everyday … and give insights [into] what it takes to be a professional in a profession, to give the kind of service [and] to provide the interests of the client … This is a profession not for the faint of heart.”
Kenney spoke of past cases that ranged from a heist involving the Irish mob to a bank fraud to a pro-bono defense of a man on death row. It was the case of the Franklin National Bank fraud case, however, where the title of the lecture “Wanted: Dead or Alive” originated. The failure of the Franklin Bank was the largest of the time.
As a federal prosecutor, Kenney was in charge of the investigation, which eventually led to the “parallel investigation of two Italian banks that failed at the same time,” Kenney said. The main Italian criminal involved had wanted Kenney to be assassinated and an amount of money was put up for Kenney’s life.
Later, Kenney found out how his apartment was “cased” and his actions were monitored. Someone even followed his three-year-old son and the nurse around the city.
Kenney addressed an important issue of representing an unfavorable client, like someone on death row. He objected to the point of view that large law firms doing this sort of pro bono work is a waste of resources to the firms’ more important paying clients.
He explained his reasoning for why an unpopular client should be defended by quoting John Adams, who defended the British soldiers involved in the Boston Massacre.
“We are to look upon it as more beneficial that many guilty persons should escape unpunished than one innocent person should suffer. The reason is, because it is more important to the community that innocent should be protected than it is that guilt should be punished; for guilt and crimes are so frequent in the world that all of them cannot be punished,” Kenney said.
Upon hearing this argument, an audience member raised a controversial question regarding when lawyers represent clients who are guilty.
In response, Kenney said, “Everybody is entitled to a defense, but you do not have to represent him.”
Kenney’s motivation for the lecture shined through, sharing his enthusiasm for his work with the room filled with law students and pre-law hopefuls, among others.
“I hope I persuaded every single one of you to become an advocate and a trial lawyer,” Kenney said in closing.