Justice for Survivors of Child Sex Abuse
Several years ago, Brian Kent represented a man who had been abused by a judge decades earlier. The civil lawsuit was successful and resulted in the judge being removed from the bench and disbarred. Mr. Kent and his client, Greg Kelly, were interviewed about this monumental case at the 2014 National Crime Victims Bar Association Conference by executive director, Jeff Dion.
Transcript of the Interview
Jeff: When Delaware created this civil window so that you could file a civil lawsuit, at the time you learned about it, that 2 year window was coming to a close. So there wasn’t a lot of time left. But even then you had some challenges because you couldn’t find an attorney to take your case right?
Greg: Yeah, I thought that this would be an absolute slam dunk. I would have thought you know because this was something I did a lot of research, there was only one other case in the history of the United States of a judge of this level or higher being accused of any kind of sexual molestation. And I would have thought this would have been something a lawyer would be very interested in. As it turns out when I started approaching some of the lawyers who were bringing some of the other cases against the Catholic Church in Delaware, they not only wouldn’t speak to me, they were overtly disrespectful. Like how dare you call us up and ask us to this with a judge that could put our nuts in a sling. Goodbye.
Jeff: So how did you ultimately, so you ended up filing a lawsuit pro se, you filed yourself, as your own attorney so you could get it in, in time. But then how did you ultimately find an attorney to help you with this case?
Greg: I did have the good fortune of one of these lawyers giving me a template that I could use to base my lawsuit on, where I would have all the relevant law. So I can’t take full credit for the filing. I did have some help. That person then referred me to the, what’s the name of your organization? The National Crime Victims Bar Association. Let’s say the national victims whatever thing, ok, yeah. The national crime victim organization. The VCO. Alright so. And Jeff actually of all people referred me to this guy. And, he wasn’t too excited to take the case, either.
Brian: Do you know my name?
Greg: Brian. He wasn’t too excited to take the case, but he did. And you know, we wanted a walkover.
Jeff: Let me ask Brian. Brian tell us, what was your practice like when you got this call from Greg and what kind of work were you doing?
Brian: Well, I don’t think there’s ever a good time to sue a judge for sexual abuse. But I was a former sex crimes prosecutor. We had developed a little bit of a practice representing sexual abuse victims and crime victims. And we had just left a pretty prominent firm in Philadelphia to set up our firm. And I think it was literally in the same month that we had started the firm, that I got the call from Greg. And we had just pledged our houses to get a line of credit, and now I’m being fronted with potentially suing a judge. So, for us it was a scary time. But at the same time, it was an important case.
Jeff: What persuaded you? What was it that persuaded you and your partners to take this case?
Brian: I think it was two fold. One, we vetted Greg pretty hard. Greg was in Vegas at the time and we were in Philadelphia. So we set up a video conference with him that lasted several hours and cross-examined him as well as we possibly could. My two partners had no experience in handling these types of cases at this point. So their questions were: ok, we may sue an individual who doesn’t have any money to pay a settlement or verdict; he’s a sitting judge and a well-respected sitting judge in Delaware. We’re a new practice and we’re trying to make a name for ourselves. But I give them a lot of credit because after we were done with Greg, all of us looked at each other and said, “Look if this guy’s a sitting judge and he had some experience in terms of handling juvenile cases and he’s abusing kids, how can we not handle the case.” So all us just said, “Let’s do it.”
Jeff: You had another problem b/c you weren’t actually admitted to practice law in Delaware.
Greg: Small problem.
Brian: So we couldn’t get an attorney. If you don’t practice in a state, you can be admitted to handle a case on a case by case basis under what’s called pro hac vice. But you need another lawyer in that jurisdiction to vouch for you and say that you know, “Brian Kent will to the best of his ability abide by the laws of Delaware.” We couldn’t find anybody.
Every call that I was making, was, I was basically being laughed at. What started happening was, we started receiving calls from lawyers in Delaware, very prominent ones, threatening us that if we took the case, we’d never be welcome in Delaware again.
There was a severe blow back from the legal community that I really did not expect. By the way I’m 30 years old at this point, brand new firm, and when you’re getting calls from guys that are really well-established in the legal community in Delaware saying ‘You better not do this or else,” it was pretty daunting.
Jeff: So you have a client that you believed in, what other evidence did you have to help prove this case?
Brian: I mean at this point, we really didn’t have anything. We had Greg’s word, but his word was good enough for us. Ultimately it came down to the fact that we really believed Greg. I mean if we made the decision not to do it, maybe. Greg, he’s obviously intelligent. He could have been successful, but then we said, you know, it’s an obligation. I got into this work because I was a former sex crimes prosecutor. Even though we knew we may not have money at the end of the day, we may lose this thing and could get in trouble if we go wrong by calling a judge out for sexual abuse, but when we got involved, we didn’t have anything but Greg’s word.
Jeff: So what role did the media play in this case, and how did that impact things?
Brian: Delaware media had a complete back out. I think Greg had tried to alert them, at this point, numerous television stations and newspapers in Delaware. And nobody would report on it. And my understanding was also that group of attorneys in Delaware, these prominent lawyers were also threatening the media not to report on this or else, sort of the same threat we were getting.
And then when we entered our appearance in Greg’s case, the Fox station in Philadelphia got news of it, and they contacted us about doing a news story. So, they came to our office and they reported it. When that happened, in terms of the media, it changed the tide because that news station is also broadcasted. Wilmington is only about 30 to 40 minutes from Philadelphia, so those broadcast in Delaware and New Jersey. That’s when the media started to pick up on it and started to get reported in periodicals and news stations.
Jeff: And so it didn’t just generate media interest, it also caused other victims to contact you, right?
Brian: Right, so as soon as we got involved in Greg’s case, and it was reported in the news, I think there was one other victim that come forward at that point and contacted us. And we decided to represent him as well. And it was the same sort of scenario. It was a social relationship that Judge Bradley had had with this individual. And after we got that case and the news had reported on it, we had numerous other victims come forward, including some well-established individuals who were saying the same thing, that they were abused by him.
Jeff: And some of them actually talked about being abused by him as a judge, in the courthouse, right?
Brian: Yeah, there was at least one victim who had reported that way he came into contact with him was through the juvenile system and there may have been abuse that occurred as a result of just that judicial relationship in his robing room I believe it was. That’s exactly why this needed to happen, in terms of this case going forward, so that things like that didn’t occur.
Greg: And I’d just like to add. Correct me if I’m wrong, the number of other survivors who came to you either didn’t want to pursue a case or had already missed the window was around 10 right?
Brian: I think it was between 10 and 15. And a lot of these folks didn’t, they were not looking for a civil case. They wanted to make sure that he was never going to be around kids again, that we was removed from the bench. They were willing to help out in any way to make sure of that.
Greg: And then there were another 10 that approached me because I actually put my email and phone number in a pr.org press release. So I had people contact me on top of these 15 that didn’t want to get involved with Brian because they had no interest in pursuing anything either. They just wanted to vent.
Jeff: And so how did the judge and his legal team react as this evidence started to mount in the case?
Brian: It was sort of out of a movie. I’m a 30 year old guy. I go down there to meet with his initial legal team, very well-established firm in an old building in Wilmington. There’s a team of lawyers sitting there across from me. I guess it was a blessing that I was naive at this point. So I walk in there, and I haven’t been one to ever back down from a fight. But I can’t imagine what was going through their heads when I walked through the door. But I said “Look here are our demands; they are non-negotiable. Let us know what the deal is.” And they basically laughed me out of there. So that was before they knew that we had all these victims, survivors, that had come forward. Obviously that changed their tune when they found out about that.
Jeff: And so what were the actual, what was it that you were trying to achieve? What were some of the key points as you went, as they started to take you seriously and you were actually able to engage in negotiations, what were the key things that were non-negotiable that you wanted to happen in this case?
Brian: Well one of the things that was non-negotiable for Greg, and that we agreed with, was that there had to be some non-monetary aspect of this. And just so everybody knows, I’m not sure if you spoke about this. He was beyond the criminal statute of limitations. He could not be arrested. He couldn’t be found, or he couldn’t be held liable in the criminal realm. He could only be held liable in the civil one. So one of the things that Greg said is, a settlement is not going to be good enough. We need an admission to the abuse. And we agreed with that because that was really going to be the only way that he was going to be held accountable by his colleagues, by the court, that people would actually know he was a child abuser. So that was one of the key things, that we wanted an admission.
Jeff: And because so often cases get settled and people pay monetary damages and it’s part of the settlement that they don’t admit anything, any liability or any wrongdoing, but here you wanted an actual admission and apology. And you got that.
Brian: We did. So we winded up settling the case and one of the things that we got was a written, signed admission that he had abused Greg, and that basically everything Greg was saying was true. And there was a monetary aspect to it as well. And as a result of getting that admission, and this is the importance of these civil windows for survivors, he was disbarred. He was removed by the Supreme Court from the bench. I don’t know if he’s still alive or what he’s doing. But, he is now an admitted child abuser. And when you have that on your resume, I don’t think anyone is going to want to spend time with you.
Jeff: Greg, how was, how did this case help you? What has it done for you?
Greg: Well, I think that the most important thing, getting back to the whole concept of being a fearlessness junkie, I was fully prepared before Brian came into this, to go all the way myself. And that may sound ridiculous, some guy who’s not a lawyer doing an actual federal trial. Well this whole experience had given me so much confidence that I have since, done several federal trials, not related to sexual abuse, but due to my career as an asset recovery specialist. So it made me believe that anything is possible. That was one good thing. And I’m also now in another David versus Goliath type case, where I need that same confidence. I think the other thing is it helped restore my faith in the goodness of people. Any of you have seen my son out there in the halls, you can imagine how protective I am of him. Trust isn’t something I give freely. You have to prove to me that you’ve earned it. But I think this case because so many people came forward, willing to help, willing to share the fact that it had happened to them, even though there was going to be no benefit for them in doing so, it helped me restore some of my lost faith in people.
Jeff: Brian, I got to ask you, did any of those lawyers that called up and threaten you ever call and apologize?
Brian: I mean, well no. I mean there was that called me halfheartedly after everything went down. I mean these were real, I mean these were not like, “Hey, you may not want to get into this case because this guy’s a well-respected judge who’s been on the bench for a while.” It was a straight up, they were threats from multiple well-established attorneys. One did call me and say, “You know I’m sorry, I was a close friend of his and I got it wrong.” And I said, “Look, if you did the same thing we did and just talk to Greg Kelly, you would have known that he was telling the truth. You never would have made that call in the first place.”
It just goes to show you that sexual abuse doesn’t have a particular color, or form, or shape. I mean this guy was as well-established an individual in the legal community in Delaware that you could find. He was a judge who people trusted to enforce the law. He was breaking it on a regular basis, in the worst possible way. So, people just really did not think that it was possible that he could have done something like this.
Jeff: And they never, ever would have known that if it hadn’t been for the civil window.
Brian: That’s exactly right which is why it’s so important that there be statute of limitations reform.
Jeff: Now, one thing I do want to point out, is that whenever I talk to victims around the country, they always tell me, you know “I need a lawyer in my town who’s going to represent me.” I want you to know that’s not the case because Brian represented Greg throughout all of this. The case was successful. They settled the case. They never met face to face until yesterday. And so that just goes to show you, that you do not need to, they did a lot of video conferencing, but you don’t need someone in your hometown to represent you to be successful and to have a good working relationship.