2008 Person of the Year: Thomas Q. Keefe, Jr.

Ann Knef Dec. 31, 2008, 7:48am

Keefe shows off a plaque of appreciation received from Army Staff Sgt. Justin Reagan.

Attorney Thomas Q. Keefe, Jr. of Belleville is the Record's 2008 Person of the Year because he brings honor to his profession.

Keefe, skilled and hard-working, has made millions suing doctors and hospitals. He also has given a lot of it away to people in need.

In May, after receiving the Richard Hudlin Memorial Award for embodying the "best aspects of the legal community and its relationship to society at large," Keefe told the Record about some of the local organizations that have received his millions.

In that interview he also derided lawyers who behave badly and bring dishonor to the profession.

And, he talked about the satisfaction he gets in pursuing justice.

"The reason I enjoy practicing law is that it's the closest thing I can get to a ballgame," he said. "There are two teams on the field...and you go to bat.

"I'm trying to win for my clients. I am supposed to be an advocate for my clients.

"If I do my job and (my adversary) does his best and the judge does his job, then we will achieve justice."

In an interview Tuesday, Keefe showed off a plaque of appreciation he received from U.S. Army Staff Sgt. Justin Reagan of the 82nd Airborne Division. Reagan is the son of U.S. District Judge Michael Reagan.

Keefe said he likes to help troops whenever he can, particularly ones who end up at Walter Reed Army Medical Center.

"Those kids put their lives on the line," he said. "It doesn't cost anything to say, 'support our troops.' Let's pick up the phone and call Walter Reed. Tell me a kid who needs help. It's about making their Christmas better."

He said that talk is cheap.

"How about when you get on an airplane if you have a seat in the front, say 'Hey soldier, why don't you sit up here, it's a better seat with better food. It's simple. Or, just send dough."

Keefe called out fellow lawyers and others who seek to accumulate "more and more" wealth.

"Why?" he said. "You can only live in one house at a time. Why not share it with others. It feels good to share it."

With four grown children and a wife, Rita, of 30 years, he said he has been "so blessed. I have so much to be grateful for."

As he was preparing for a medical malpractice trial set to begin in Madison County next week, Keefe talked about the high costs of preparing cases for trial.

One of the ways he controls costs is by limiting use of expert witnesses, he said. But, he said they are a "necessary evil" and he only uses them "to get to the jury."

"I try to make the defendant say it," he said. "That's how you win cases."

He said trials now are "over expertised" as he quoted Mark Twain who described expert witnesses as "paid liars from another county."

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