Judge Keville's Sword




Tribute to Hon. Edmund Keville (1910 2005) Friend and Mentor


            This story is taken from a memorial ceremony I had the privilege to participate in. The full memorial can be found here.


           Anyone who knew or appeared before Judge Keville will tell you of his patience, his kindness, and his compassion, how he was soft spoken and how carefully he listened, but what made him great is that he balanced those qualities so perfectly with a tenacity and toughness that were quietly disarming. He never asked for his pen; he always said, "Could you pass me my sword."


            Let me share with you the very simple but epic case of Mr. H. Judge Keville was presiding over the weekly contempt session in Norfolk County and the court room, as always, was jammed packed. In due course, the case of Mr. H was called. Mr. H was a man of advanced age who had a serious heart condition. He was a man of great wealth and he had been ordered by another judge to split that wealth evenly with his wife of long standing. The divorce judgment had been upheld on appeal. The contempt hearing was straight forward. The former wife's attorney explained that Mr. H had put all of his assets in bearer bonds and had secreted them away. Mr. H simply responded by saying, "Judge, she will never, ever receive a penny of my money." So began the epic.


           After several warnings and exploration of all possible alternatives at subsequent hearings, Judge Keville imposed a fifteen-day jail sentence. Now the sheriff of Norfolk County at that time was facing a federal law suit for the overcrowding at the jail. He was not happy to have an elderly man with a heart condition under his supervision, and he let Judge Keville know about it. Needless to say, after a short stay, Mr. H complained of chest pains and the sheriff had to arrange to have him rushed to the hospital. Judge Keville made it clear that Mr. H need not be guarded at the hospital. Upon his release, the sheriff, after allowing for a reasonable period of time for recuperation, was to go pick him up at his home on the basis that, as Judge Keville coined it, Mr. H was "on unauthorized leave from the county jail."


          Then the letters started pouring in about what an injustice it was for a senior citizen of Mr. H's stature and ill health to be serving a jail sentence. No one outside the court, not even the sheriff, seemed to realize that Mr. H held the key to his own jail cell. The incredible moment of the case came when Judge Keville was sitting at home on a Sunday night watching "60 Minutes" and up popped Mr. H being interviewed in his jail cell telling Morley Safer that "he was serving a life sentence on the installment plan." Keville never bent. I don't remember whether it took two years or three years but Mr. H ultimately paid his wife her one-half share plus interest plus all of her attorney's fees associated with the contempt action. On the day of Mr. H's capitulation, the wife's attorney thanked Judge Keville and stated that he didn't know if there was another judge in the state that would have stuck it out so long to see that justice was done.


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