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Former McCarter Chair Mike Kelly dies at 65

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WILMINGTON – Michael “Mike” P. Kelly, the former chairman of the national law firm McCarter & English, a well-known Wilmington litigator and the co-owner of Trolley Square’s mainstay Logan House bar and restaurant, died Monday at age 65 after a years-long fight against gallbladder cancer.

Michael P. Kelly | PHOTO COURTESY OF MCCARTER & ENGLISH

Kelly stepped down from a leadership role at the AmLaw 200 firm in 2019 after serving at its helm for a decade, but continued to litigate his ongoing cases.

In a statement, McCarter & English called Kelly “a brilliant legal practitioner and a compassionate human being, drawing those around him to his incredible intellect, energy, and spirit.”

He joined McCarter in June 2000 and became a transformative leader for the 177-year-old firm based in Newark, N.J., that has a large office in Wilmington – it’s one of the 10 largest firms in Delaware, according to Delaware Business Times records.

Earlier in his career, he served as general counsel to the Resins Group at Hercules Inc., a chemical manufacturer predecessor to today’s Ashland Inc., where he handled environmental litigation involving superfunds, RCRA and the Clean Water Act. In 1990, he received the Hercules-Aqualon Triangle Achievement Award.

A fourth-generation Wilmingtonian, Kelly earned his law degree from the Dickinson School of Law in Pennsylvania, where he was also president of the student body, and his bachelor’s degree from Columbia University, where he lettered in football and co-captained the track team.

He will likely be remembered by the general public for two different roles: lead counsel to the former leader of Wilmington Trust and owner of the historic Logan House.

He represented Wilmington Trust’s former President Robert Harra for many years in his defense of charges that he was among bank executives who hid troubled loans from banking regulators after the 2008 financial crisis. They were accused of not reporting all commercial real estate loans that were past due in order to prop up a stock sale and were found guilty in 2018 in a case that many Delawareans followed.

A federal appeals court overturned those convictions in July though and federal prosecutors declined to pursue the case again after a decade of litigation.

“My client is relieved. 10 years of a living hell. He can never regain what he lost,” Kelly told Reuters after the ruling last year.

For those who have enjoyed Wilmington’s nightlife, Kelly will be remembered for his presence at his family’s Logan House, the oldest bar reportedly continually operated by the same family in the United States. Built in 1864, the Logan House, named after American Civil War general John A. Logan, was purchased by Kelly’s great-grandfather in 1889. He took over managing the spot in 1990 and continued to own the restaurant until his passing.

To those in the legal community though, Kelly was a keen mind and a trusted mentor to many.

He argued thousands of high-profile cases in state and federal courts nationwide, including more than 25 cases before the Delaware Supreme Court. Kelly was especially well-regarded for his work in product liability litigation, earning industry distinctions as recently as last year while raking up major victories.

He served on the national trial team for AstraZeneca, a frequent client, in its litigation concerning its blockbuster antipsychotic drug Seroquel, which involved more than 28,000 cases. Kelly obtained summary judgment in the first Seroquel case filed in Delaware (Hopkins v. AstraZeneca), followed by a sweeping statute of limitations victory (Burrell et al v. AstraZeneca) that led all remaining cases to settle at the lowest per-case amount of any litigation of its kind, according to his firm.

“Mike will be remembered for zealously and competently representing his clients while never deviating from his devotion to faith, family, and friends. He has left an indelible mark on all those he touched and will be greatly missed,” his former law firm said Tuesday.

In a 2019 profile interview with Delaware Business Times, Kelly was asked what made him a good leader.

“I am not saying I am a good leader. But I always tried to listen and gave my colleagues every benefit of the doubt. Good leaders have to inspire. But they also have to set the tone for excellence, integrity, and honesty,” he replied.

Kelly also said that he measured success by how one respects his or her family, friends, and those in need.

“I would much rather be remembered as being a great father, husband and friend than being a great trial lawyer,” he said.

Kelly is survived by his wife, Deanna Henderson Kelly, two children, Joanna Gerard Kelly and Michael Patrick Kelly Jr.; a twin brother, Dr. John D. Kelly IV; and a sister, Mary Ann Kelly MacDonald.

A visitation will be offered from 2 to 8 p.m. Thursday, Jan. 13, at the McCrery & Harra Funeral Home, located at 3924 Concord Pike in Wilmington. A 1 p.m.mass will be offered Friday, Jan. 14, at St. Ann’s Catholic Church, located at 2013 Gilpin Ave. in Wilmington. Interment will be private.

In lieu of flowers, the family requests contributions to the Little Sisters of the Poor, located at 185 Salem Church Road, Newark 19713; The Ministry of Caring, at 115 E. 14th St. in Wilmington, 19801; the Limen House-Triad (limende.org); or the NAACP (naacpldf.org).

Editor’s note: This story was updated to reflect that Kelly died Jan. 10 rather than 11 and confirmed the cause of gallbladder cancer.

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