Chase alum becomes first graduate elected to state Supreme Court

Gov. Steve Beshear saw something in the 23 years of experience Michelle Keller offered. On April 3 he appointed her as Justice on the Supreme Court of Kentucky.

Michelle Keller gained “the ultimate position of an attorney” but doesn’t let her success go to her head. She is humbled by the trust that Gov. Beshear and people have placed within her and “will work hard to make them proud,” she said in an interview.

Upon graduating Chase, Keller set out to do what she always knew she wanted, be a courtroom attorney and represent people. An avid reader, Keller was influenced by characters like Atticus Finch in To Kill A Mockingbird. And focused on “just becoming the best attorney I can be.”

Keller is the first Chase graduate to be elected to the Kentucky Supreme Court. Keller is also the third female justice on the Kentucky Supreme Court. She was appointed to fill Justice Wil Schroder after his retirement this past January.

This she said is bittersweet for her, and “it’s happened earlier than I thought.”

While juggling NKU’s Salmon P. Chase College of Law, she was a registered nurse in critical care at Cincinnati VA Medical Center. Keller was an Interest On Lawyers Trust Accounts (IOLTA) Scholar while a law student and graduated Chase with her juris doctor in 1990.

Amid her third year of law school she had her first daughter, who was only under two when Keller was signed in. Her second daughter came when she was 32. Continuing to be a lifelong Kentuckian, her daughters and her physician husband, Jim, live in Ft. Mitchell, Ky.

“At all times a focus I’ve tried to maintain is a balance of family and career,” Justice Keller said. “Parenting is the most important job.”

Also chair of the court system’s Technology Governance Committee, Keller is a busy woman. The 23 years of experience she has under her belt include seventeen years of practicing law with Arnzen, Molloy and Storm P. S. C.

She served both as an assistant county prosecutor and a criminal defense attorney. Her practice focused on family law, personal injury and medical negligence defense.

Kevin King, a 1988 Chase Alumnus and previous colleague at Arnzen, Molloy, & Storm from 2004, until Keller was elected to the Court of Appeals in 2006. Since April 2013, King has become a law clerk at the Supreme Court of Kentucky. King began working with Keller at the COA in February 2007.

“She viewed every case as requiring the same amount of attention, whether it was a prison rights case involving the request that he be reimbursed for $100 for his boots, to a case involving people being sentenced to significant periods of time in prison or people winning or losing significant sums of money in civil cases. Every case deserves an equal amount of attention because they are serious to the people involved in them.” King said.

And Keller’s knowledge doesn’t stop there. She is hearing officer and chairwoman emeritus of the Kentucky Personnel Board. In November 2006 she was elected into the Court of Appeals as Judge for Division 1 of the 6th appellate District.

From there her follow Court of Appeals judges elected her as the representative on the Judicial Conduct Commission for the Court of Appeals from 2007 to February 2012. Keller is a master in the Salmon P. Chase Inn of Court and was elected president for 2012-13.

Keller received accolades twice by the Kentucky House of Representatives for her service to the commonwealth.

In 2007 she received the Chase Excellence Award. In 2009 Keller received the Kentucky Bar Association’s Donated Legal Service Award. Keller was awarded the Chase Exceptional Service Award in 2011.

In 2012 these accolades continued when she was named a 2012 Outstanding Woman of Northern Kentucky.

The community around Justice Keller flourishes from her work at the Diocesan Catholic Children’s Home, the Northern Kentucky Children’s Advocacy Center, Villa Madonna Academy, Centre College, NKU Salmon P. Chase College of Law and the St. Thomas More Society among the volunteer and board positions she holds.

The American Bar Association President Bill Robinson III appointed her as a member of the Ethics and Professional Responsibility Judges Advisory Committee for the American Bar Association.

In 10 years she hopes to have had a long tenure on the Supreme Court and goes wherever it leads. She said somewhere far off in the future she is interested in joining the global effort to provide law in establishing countries.

Justice Keller said she is forever “grateful to NKU and Chase for providing education opportunities I might not have had.”

The advice she has for young attorneys is that “at all times remember the interest of the clients is paramount.” Keller advises everyone as she strongly believes, “Do right by people and success will come.”