Kentwood District Court judge to retire after 42 years

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Judge William Kelly Courtesy Kentwood’s 62-B District Court

Judge William G. Kelly will retire from the bench Jan. 1 after serving at the city of Kentwood’s 62-B District Court for 42 years.

He is currently serving his seventh and final six-year term after being reelected in 2014. Kelly was first elected to serve as the city’s district court judge in November 1978, and he took the bench in 1979 after his father Joseph Kelly served as Kentwood’s municipal judge from 1971-79. Since 1979, Kelly has been the only district court judge to hold the gavel.

“I have been fortunate to have had a great law career,” Kelly said. “I have loved serving this community for so many years, and I am grateful for all the opportunities that have helped me become a better judge. We have a great team at 62-B District Court, and I look forward to seeing the court’s future accomplishments and growth.”

The city of Kentwood will be celebrating Kelly’s retirement virtually at 3 p.m. Dec. 30. The event will include remarks by Chief Justice Bridget Mary McCormack and other speakers. The public can attend via Zoom — meeting ID: 4280940961 — or the 62-B District Court YouTube channel.

“Judge Kelly has been an invaluable asset to Kentwood and the West Michigan area,” Kentwood Mayor Stephen Kepley said. “His dedication to our community has been demonstrated by his service on the bench along with his many accomplishments for our court system. We wish Judge Kelly the best as he moves into retirement, and we sincerely thank him for his leadership in directing Kentwood’s 62-B District Court for these past 42 years.”

During his tenure, Kelly has led a team of almost 25 court personnel. Since the pandemic, he has been instrumental in creating a virtual court on Zoom with a livestream on its YouTube channel. He also has partnered with the Supreme Court to implement a paperless system throughout the state to begin in the near future.

“With its challenges, the pandemic has brought innovation to Michigan courtrooms as we look at ways we can continue to conduct court safely in the interest of justice,’’ Kelly said. “I am proud of the virtual court we have been able to establish for Kentwood in my last year.”

Kelly has made his presence felt outside of the courtroom. He has been a teaching faculty member of the Michigan Judicial Institute’s new judge’s program since 1985. He has taught classes on several topics at the National Judicial College since 2002.

He also has served as an adjunct faculty member at Western Michigan University Thomas M. Cooley Law School on the use of technology in advanced trial practice and presented at the National Center for State Courts’ court technology conferences.

Kelly has served on the Foreign Language Board of Review and is a member of the Legislative Committee of the Michigan District Judges Association. He previously served as chair of the National Conference of the Special Court Judges of the American Bar Association, chair of the Judicial Conference of the State Bar of Michigan, president of the Michigan District Judges Association, chair of the ABA’s Judicial Division Committee on its traffic court program, member of the board of trustees of the Grand Rapids Bar Association and member of the board of directors of the National Center for State Courts.

“Over the years, I have enjoyed being involved in judicial associations and education programs both statewide and nationwide,” Kelly said. “These activities have enriched my career and have given me ideas to lead this court.”

Prior to his career with Kentwood, Kelly served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Ghana from 1970-72, teaching math in a secondary school. He then went onto become an assistant prosecutor with the Kalamazoo Prosecutor’s Office from 1975-77. Following that role, he served as a defense attorney in the Kent County Office of the Private Defender until 1978.

Kelly has received numerous awards throughout his career, including the Donald R. Worsfold Award from the Grand Rapids Bar Association, the Marian Hilligan Public Service Award from WMU-Cooley Law School, the William R. McMahon Award from the ABA for the most significant implementation of technological advances in a court of limited or special jurisdiction, the Judicial Excellence Award from the Michigan District Judges Association, the Peacemaker Award from the Dispute Resolution Center of West Michigan and the St. Thomas More Award from the Catholic Lawyers Association of West Michigan.

Kelly is a graduate of the University of Detroit and the University of Detroit School of Law.

Amanda Sterkenburg will succeed Kelly as district court judge effective Jan. 1. She is a private practice attorney who focuses on criminal and civil cases, including landlord-tenant disputes.

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