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Kelley will leave bench

Judge Walter D. Kelley Jr. will leave the federal district bench less than four years after he was appointed to the court.

In a letter to President Bush today, Kelley said May 16 will be his last day as a judge. “I have reluctantly concluded that my professional interests and the needs of my family are best met in the private sector. I therefore have accepted a partnership in the international law firm of Jones Day, resident in its Washington, D.C. office.”

The letter followed calls from Virginia Lawyers Weekly and other reporters about comments he made last week at a hearing in a patent case in Norfolk. Kelley told the attorneys before him that he has been offered a partnership in the Washington office of Jones Day and might well be leaving the bench shortly. The remarks were in the context of a case scheduled for trial in April, and he mentioned that it might be the last case he will preside over.

Asked earlier today about the remarks, Kelley acknowledged that he had made them but would not elaborate on them. He said he had not written to the White House announcing his resignation and added that any comment before he does so would be premature. Within a few hours of that response, he e-mailed a copy of the correspondence to the White House.

A native of Norfolk and a graduate of Washington and Lee University and its law school, Kelley was nominated in October 2003 to the seat vacated by Judge Henry C. Morgan. The Senate confirmed him in June 2004, and he received his commission two months later.

At the time, he was a partner in the Norfolk office of Troutman Sanders LLP. He specialized in commercial litigation, with particular emphasis on intellectual property and antitrust cases.

In his letter to the President, Kelley said, “Serving the citizens of this country as a United States District Judge has been the greatest honor of my professional career. Thank you for giving me this opportunity.”

However, as a judge, he earned a fraction of his income as a litigator, and he has presided over dockets heavy on drug and firearm cases with relatively little in the way of the business disputes he handled as an attorney. His assistant said he would not say anything today beyond what was in the letter.

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