Lawyer for May 4 shooting dies

Photo by Photo by Sonny Canfora

Photo by Photo by Sonny Canfora

Grace Murray

As the May 4 Visitors Center prepares for its upcoming commemoration, members remember Joseph Kelner, the lawyer who represented those killed and wounded at Kent State on May 4, 1970, in a lawsuit against the sitting governor of Ohio, the National Guard and former Kent State president.

Kelner passed away March 4 at the age of 98 in Manhasset, N.Y.

During his practice, Kelner was the president of the American Trial Lawyers Association and New York State Trial Lawyers Association and was respected on a national scale for his work, said Alan Canfora, one of the nine students wounded in 1970.

“I always admired his courage,” Canfora said. “He put his heart and soul into the lawsuit, pushing himself almost to the point of exhaustion.”

Originally, the mother of Jeffery Miller, who was killed in the shootings, retained Kelner’s services in 1975; her son is often pictured lying face down on the pavement in a photograph that has now become synonymous with May 4, 1970. Once hired, Kelner came to represent the families of the other students who were killed and wounded, as well, Canfora said.

Though Kelner lost the civil suit by a 9-3 vote, Canfora said, “Mr. Kelner fought a very valiant fight, as it was a monumental undertaking.”

After losing the lawsuit, the families of those killed and wounded appealed the court’s decision; however, they did not chose to bring Kelner back as their lawyer.

“He had already been through quite an ordeal,” Canfora said. “We chose Sanford Jay Rosen, a young expert who specialized in appellate law to represent us, which we thought we needed. We never had any hard feelings for Kelner, though.”

Kelner then went on to co-author “The Kent State Coverup,” a book about the May 4 trial with James Munves.

“Kelner’s book gives, I think, the best look at the trials,” Laura Davis, English professor and coordinator for May 4 initiatives, said. “He’s a man who did good work during that time, and I have always been thankful for what he did on behalf of those families.”

Davis said, although the May 4 Visitors Center does not have any significant plans to honor Kelner, members of the center plan to acknowledge his passing at the commemoration ceremony on May 4, 2013.

“I was very sad to hear of Mr. Kelner’s passing,” Canfora said, “but I will always have eternal gratitude for his services.”

Members of the Kelner family could not be reached by press time.

Contact Grace Murray at [email protected],.