Minnesota State Law Library
Born September 13, 1907 in Crookston, Minnesota, to parents John Kelly and Agnes Fitzgerald Kelly, Leon Fallon Kelly knew at an early age he wanted to practice law. Having read a book about an attorney who successfully defends a person unjustly accused of a crime, the young Kelly thought "how great it would be if I could do something like that." Recognizing his ambition and potential, Kelly's aunt paid his tuition, room, and board to attend St. Thomas Military Academy in St. Paul, from which he graduated second in his class in 1926. Kelly went on to attend the University of Minnesota for his undergraduate education and law school. As a law student, Kelly was active in student government, serving as president of his senior class and the All-University Council. He was on the Board of Editors for the Minnesota Law Review and graduated fifth in his class in 1933.
Graduating during the Great Depression, Kelly was fortunate to find work as an attorney, even though the job paid less than he made pumping gas during law school. His fortune improved, however, when he was hired by Harold Stassen in 1935. He married his wife, Mary Batchelder the same year. Three years later, Stassen was elected Governor of Minnesota and Kelly continued to work as an attorney at Stassen & Ryan and then its successor firm, Kelly & LeVander. At these two firms, Kelly practiced with future governors, senators, state legislators, and several judges.
Kelly's public service began with military service in the U.S. Navy during World War II. In 1958, President Eisenhower appointed Kelly U.S. District Attorney. In 1970, Kelly was appointed Associate Justice of the Minnesota Supreme Court. Serving during the decade known for heavy caseloads, Justice Kelly was vocal about the need for an "intermediate court of appeals," an idea realized in 1983, just three years after his resignation from the Court. Justice Kelly authored nearly 300 majority decisions for the Court and is perhaps best known for Continental Can Co. v. State, 297 N.W.2d 241 (Minn. 1980), which declared that sexual harassment is an illegal discriminatory practice.
Justice Kelly died June 19, 1992.
He and his wife had 4 children together.
You may read more about the life and work of Justice Kelly in the Minnesota Supreme Court Historical Society's book: Testimony: Remembering Minnesota's Supreme Court Justices, which is a source of this brief biography.