Massachusetts: The fall of Ed Kelly: Disbarred lawyer sits in jail and wonders how it all came to this

By David E. Frank

The Daily Record Newswire

BOSTON, MA -- Ed Kelly was riding high when he walked out of New Bedford Superior Court on Nov. 19, 2008. He had just won a first-degree murder trial on behalf of Leonard Gonsalves, a suspected gang-banger accused of pumping 18 bullets into a rival Crips member, by casting doubt on the state's identification evidence.

The acquittal surprised many in Bristol County's tight-knit criminal bar, no one more so than the prosecutor in the case.

"Ed's client walked out the front door, and a month later I tried the get-away driver for the same crime," says Assistant District Attorney Steven E. Gagne. "He was hooked for second-degree murder. It was totally backwards, but it's a credit to Ed and the talent he had as a lawyer."

After the trial, Gagne promised Kelly there would be a rematch, joking that he let Kelly win the first one but wanted another crack at him.

Edward G. Kelly was on top of his game, and he knew it. More importantly, others knew it, too.

"I got off on guys telling me I was the best lawyer in Bristol County, and that verdict helped feed that. I was pretty good without screwing around. When I look back on things I've done, I feel so stupid and ashamed," says Kelly, today an inmate serving a three- to five-year prison term.

'Morally and ethically adrift'

There would be no rematch with Gagne.

A year after Kelly got Gonsalves off, the defense lawyer returned to the same New Bedford courtroom, but this time as a convicted felon.

The 52-year-old divorced father of four listened in tears while the sentencing judge addressed him, calling her duty "a sad one" for both Kelly and herself.

The hearing in front of Judge Frances A. McIntyre was attended by a courtroom full of judges, lawyers, politicians and family members who looked on as Kelly admitted to 20 felonies that included forgery, larceny and interference of court proceedings. The crimes all occurred while he represented defendants in Bristol and Plymouth counties.

The Plymouth charges, which came to light two weeks after the Gonsalves verdict, accused Kelly of posing as a victim witness advocate and calling two police departments on recorded lines to tell officers they were not needed at trial the next day.

The Bristol crimes included forging the signatures of prosecutors and judges on mandatory-minimum gun cases; informing a client that a charge of leaving the scene had been dismissed, when it had not; and lying to a judge that his OUI client was not in court because he had died in a car crash.

Describing Kelly as "morally and ethically adrift in a system that trusted him implicitly because he was a lawyer," Judge McIntyre ordered him to refrain from dispensing legal advice to the prison inmates he soon would be joining.

"The whole thing seems surreal to me now," Kelly says. "When I heard the judge say three to five, I just went numb."

With that, Kelly was hauled off to a holding cell by the same court officers he used to talk Red Sox with in the hallway. Minutes later, he boarded a transport van headed for MCI-Cedar Junction in Walpole.

The driver of the van, whom Kelly had known for years, told him there was no way to prepare for what awaited him.

"When we get out, one of the guards yelled, 'Welcome to hell on earth,'" Kelly remembers. "He was right about that."

'Go get Kelly'

Even before he was indicted, Kelly knew it was a matter of time before his unethical practices would catch up with him.

The outgoing, fast-talking defense lawyer had a reputation for getting results. But he was also known for not showing up to court and for delaying the resolution of cases for as long as possible. And over the course of his 18-year career, he started pushing the envelope farther and farther.

"I knew in my head that [the indictment] was coming because I'd crossed the line; I did those things," he says, speaking publicly for the first time since his conviction. "When you first get here, you blame everybody but yourself. But I understand now that it wasn't them; it was me. I'm the one responsible for my downfall."

Kelly knows his former colleagues want to understand what motivated him to throw it all away.

"The word was that I did drugs, but I've never done a drug in my life," he says. "I've never even smoked a joint. And I haven't had a drink in 20 years."

He takes exception with the theory advanced by the prosecutor in his case, William M. McCauley, that Kelly "was all about the money."

"[McCauley] was just flat out wrong when he made that statement," Kelly says. "You know what it was about? It was all about me being 'the man.' I liked everyone coming to me. I liked being 'Ed Kelly, the lawyer.' 'Go get Kelly. He can get anything done.'"

Few lawyers would have the nerve to go as far as he went, he concedes, but he says the lying and cheating became easy over time.

And although the indictments involved crimes committed in the late 2000s, Kelly's record shows his destructive behavior started much earlier. In 2001, the Board of Bar Overseers found he had altered official records that had been left in the courtroom. Four years later, the BBO reprimanded him for taking a discrimination case when he lacked employment law experience.

"I thought a lot of times I was smarter than the judge. If the judge didn't come through, I'd think, 'Oh really, I'll do it myself,'" says Kelly, whose behavior over the years had been the subject of rumors circulating in Fall River District Court, where he frequently appeared.

Behind the scenes, meanwhile, Kelly was dealing with an adult daughter who had cerebral palsy and other family-related issues, he says. Suddenly, Ed Kelly, the man, was suffering burnout and depression.

Shortly before his arrest, he called his friend Boston City Council President Stephen J. Murphy, and begged him for a job. He told Murphy he was in trouble and needed help before something happened.

Murphy, who knew Kelly from high school, remembers the conversation, but says it actually took place several years before Kelly's indictment.

"Ed said he was in over his head and was looking to see if he could get out of the criminal law business," Murphy says. "He said it was going to blow up on him. I look back on that conversation and wish there was something I could've done."

'Hey, counselor'

Kelly says he's done looking back. Instead, he's focused on November 2012, when he becomes eligible for parole.

"I think about getting out every second of every minute of every day," says Kelly, who keeps in touch with only a handful of people from the outside. "It can drive you crazy, but you can't help yourself."

He currently resides at the Pondville Correctional Center, a minimum security prison where he receives culinary training. He has worked at a National Guard facility in Milford, preparing meals for military workers and Department of Corrections staff. He has also been teaching inmates how to use computers and write résumés.

He works out daily and has lost 55 pounds since he entered prison 18 months ago.

Kelly says life at Pondville is a heck of a lot better than the year he spent in the maximum security Norfolk and Walpole prisons. There, he saw things that have scarred him for life, he says.

"I'm in prison, so there are things I can't talk about," he says. "Let's just say it wasn't a healthy place for me."

His introduction to life behind bars started with an order to strip and walk naked into a large intake area in Walpole for a "dehumanizing" full-body search. And there was an "eye-opening" video on prison rape that he had to watch his first day.

He recalls carrying his blanket and pillow into a cell block crowded with prisoners who began yelling in unison, "Hey, counselor." It was like a scene out of a movie, he says.

During his time in maximum security, Kelly would cross paths with inmates he had either defended over the years or prosecuted during his stint as a Bristol County ADA after graduating from New England School of Law. There were some uncomfortable exchanges.

"People would say, 'Kelly, can you help me? Can you tell me about this appeal?' I would tell them I couldn't. A lot of guys understood, but a lot of guys didn't," he says, declining to elaborate.

'A good guy'

Disbarred in March 2010, Kelly says he plans to petition the BBO someday to get his license back. Meanwhile, he says he has a job lined up for when he's released, though he won't say where.

Brian S. Fahy, one of the prosecutors whose names Kelly forged, says the Fall River lawyer deserves a second chance.

Even after he learned of the forgery, purportedly on a document dismissing a gun charge, Fahy considered his former adversary a "good guy," he says.

"It's sad that someone you viewed as a friend would take advantage of you like that," Fahy says. "Selfishly, I wish he hadn't done it to me, but I think he saw his opportunity and took it."

Fahy, now in private practice, says he plans one day to reach out to Kelly and make peace with the man.

"Being part of the downfall of someone you respected and admired hurts," he says. "He was too good an attorney to stoop to this level. For him to take the shortcuts he took didn't make sense, because he didn't need to."

Meanwhile, District Court Judge John M. Julian, whose name Kelly also forged, says he has no desire to bump into the ex-lawyer.

"We all took an oath to uphold the law and operate under a code of ethics, and that right there is throwing it all down the drain," Julian says. "Signing some other lawyer's name to a document, let alone a judge, is totally not what we are all supposed to be about."

Gagne, the ADA whom Kelly beat in the Gonsalves murder trial, understands both points of views.

"It was really an egregious attack on the integrity of the system that couldn't go unpunished," he says. "Yet there was also a feeling of sadness that someone we all knew as a genuinely good person and good lawyer would do such unimaginable crimes."

Published: Mon, May 9, 2011