Legal Ethics

Promise Kept: Lawyer Quits Firm to Continue Juvenile Client's Defense


Screen shot of Keenan Holmes talking in Web video about Stewart case.

After a conflict arose that made a Pittsburgh lawyer have to choose between his six-figure law firm salary or keeping a promise to a juvenile he was defending, Keenan Holmes says the choice became clear.

“How can I tell my kids to do the right thing if I don’t? A man only has his word—and I gave mine to this boy and his family,” Holmes told the New Pittsburgh Courier. “This isn’t about practicing law, it’s about practicing justice.”

Holmes represents 17-year-old Joshua Stewart, who is accused in a wrongful-death suit of selling or giving drugs to a teenage girl who died of a drug overdose last year. An honors student in advanced classes, Stewart claims he had nothing to do with the girl’s drug use.

Because Stewart is a juvenile, he could have kept his identity shielded. Instead, he has taken his case to the court of public opinion, even releasing a polished, well-produced video about his case.

“I’m at peace because I know everything is going to be all right,” Stewart is quoted saying. “I don’t think the guys that did this are, though.”

Holmes tells that paper that he too is at peace with his decision to leave Eckert Seamans Cherin & Mellott instead of drop the case.

“Once we went public, I knew they would ask me to drop it because the firm does a lot of work with the City of New Castle—and I knew I couldn’t,” Holmes is quoted saying. “It was totally amicable. Tim Ryan, the CEO said he understood. This has nothing to do with Eckert Seamans or with Josh. It’s about doing the right thing.”

Holmes is preparing to hang his own shingle and already has four lawyers signed on to his new firm, which will focus on corporate litigation and small business consulting.

Even with the business focus, Holmes says he intends to set aside part of his practice as a “justice department” staffed by criminal defense and civil rights attorneys “to serve clients just like Josh.”

Play the video now from YouTube:

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