Joseph Kelner, attorney who sued sitting Ohio governor over Kent State slayings, is dead at 98

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Joseph Kelner, a personal injury attorney best known for the litigation battle he fought, and arguably won, over an iconic Vietnam War protest at Kent State University, has died. He was 98 years old.

A former president of the New York State Trial Lawyers Association and the American Trial Lawyers Association, Kelner took on both the then-sitting governor of Ohio and the president of Kent State after four students were killed in 1970 by members of the Ohio National Guard shooting into a crowd of demonstrators, recounts the New York Times (reg. req.).

An initial federal jury verdict acquitting all defendants, including 27 members of the National Guard, was reversed on appeal. Although Kelner eventually won a settlement of $675,000, which the plaintiffs accepted against his advice, he was not happy about the result of the Kent State case. He had sought some $46 million in damages on behalf of students wounded and slain by the gunfire at the campus protest, according to an article by the Associated Press about the 1975 acquittals that is archived on Google.

In a 1980 book which he co-authored, The Kent State Coverup, the attorney contended that “one governmental agency after another had managed to suppress evidence and shield those responsible for the shootings in a monumental cover-up.” And, he added, “The same process continued in the Cleveland courtroom.”

For more details about Kelner’s career, read the full New York Times (reg. req.) article.

Chronologies of what happened concerning the Kent State shootings are provided both in a May 4 Task Force website created by former Kent State students and on a special collections and archives web page of the Kent State University library.

Related material: (May 4, 2007): “Today in Legal History: Demonstrators Shot by Authorities at Haymarket, Kent State”

Daily Kos (2006): “”Blood on my Hands”: Kent State Civil Trials”

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