In Minnesota Litigator’s experience of former U.S. Magistrate Judge Jeffrey Keyes, he seems to embody kindness, humility, and professionalism. He has had a long and distinguished career in Minnesota civil litigation and, unsurprisingly, has some important insights as to how our system is succeeding and how it is failing. (In critical ways, it seems to be doing plenty of both.)
ML: Judge Keyes, let’s start with your bio.
Keyes: All right. I’ll give you the deep background. I was born in New York City in 1946, and grew up there, in Manhattan, the Lower East Side of New York City.
My family moved to south Florida in 1957. I went to high school down there and then went to college at Notre Dame. I graduated from Notre Dame in 1968, did a one year stint in graduate school at Georgetown, and then went to Michigan to law school.
ML: What kind of graduate school?
Keyes: Government, foreign service at Georgetown, but then I decided right away that it was law school that I really wanted. So then I went to Ann Arbor for law school and graduated in ’72.
Then I faced the issue of where to go to work. I had summer clerked in Chicago at Sidley Austin, an excellent firm, and I really thought seriously about going back to Chicago. Then I had heard great things about the city of Minneapolis. I had never been to Minneapolis, but it sounded like the kind of place that I thought that I might be looking for. Came out here and interviewed with several of the firms, and then we decided that, “Well, let’s take a shot at this beautiful city in the Midwest….” And it was a great decision. I came here in 1972 and went to work for what was then the Haverstock Gray Plant Firm, now known as Gray Plant Mooty. I worked at Gray Plant, which is just a wonderful, wonderful place, from 1972 to 1986, and then I moved over to Briggs and Morgan.
ML: Why did you move?
Keyes: Well, at that time, there were a lot of changes going on in Gray Plant firm. A large group of lawyers had left, Dick Bowman had left. Initially, I was going to go work with Dick, because I had done a fair amount of work with Dick. You know Dick Bowman, who recently passed away. Such a wonderful lawyer. So there were a large group that left at that time, and I got itchy about doing something else. Then, shortly thereafter, the opportunity at Briggs and Morgan arose. So I decided to move there. But it was a situation where I maintained a long and wonderful relationship with Gray Plant. In those days, though, it was very difficult leaving law firms. Today, everybody moves around so much. But at that time, when you joined a law firm, I always said it like joining a monastic order. You didn’t just move around. It was a difficult decision, but one that was right for me at the time. I always say that I had the opportunity to work for two excellent firms, and great people, during that whole period of time. It was a good decision. And I worked at Briggs until I went on the bench in 2008. So 22 years at Briggs.
ML: What prompted you to make the move to become a United States Magistrate Judge?