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Deputy Attorney General James Cole Speaks at the Jack Keeney Memorial Ceremony


Washington, DC
United States

As prepared for delivery

Thank you, David.

In a recent Washington Post op-ed, George Will wrote that “One reason law enforcement is such a demanding, and admirable, profession is that it requires the constant exercise of good judgment in the application of general rules to ambiguous situations.” The constant exercise of good judgment in the application of general rules to ambiguous circumstances. It’s not easy to encapsulate the essence of what we strive for here at the Department of Justice, but those words come pretty close. And when I hear them, I immediately think of one man – Jack Keeney. And yes, I’m old enough that when I knew him, I could call him Jack.

When I joined the Department in 1979, fresh out of law school, Jack was the Deputy AAG who oversaw the Public Integrity Section where I was assigned. As a new lawyer, I was awed by his calm and unflappable demeanor, even in the most challenging of circumstances and most important cases. And I was similarly impressed by his wisdom and judgment. It was a wisdom and judgment that reflected more than a sharp legal mind, although he had that too. Rather, it was wisdom and judgment that was borne of his deep experience, not just in the law but in life. Through his service to his country in the military continuing through his service to the Department through the range of positions he held here.

When you were in a meeting with Jack, he often remained quiet. But when he did speak, everyone else became quiet. They wanted to hear what he had to say and they knew that it would be thoughtful and valuable and based on merit. This came from Jack’s wealth of knowledge, accumulated over years of supervising and reviewing some of the most sensitive cases in the Department. He had seen it all. And, as a result, he had developed a honed sense of perspective – able to discern which issues were big and which issues were small, what to focus on and what was just a distraction. For someone like me, who was learning what it meant to be a lawyer, and more imortantly, what it meant to be a Department of Justice lawyer, there was no finer role model than Jack Keeney.

His legacy as a Department role model endures. For those of you who are career Department employees, you honor his memory every day with the work you do. As you strive to do what’s right and just, you live the values that Jack lived for each of the 59 years he served here – he was, quite literally, the model of a “career prosecutor.” And like Jack, you career employees carry on his legacy as the foundation of this Department.

To those of you who are newer lawyers, or who have just recently joined the Department, I urge you to learn the lessons taught by Jack’s career. First, a sharp intellect, the ability to write and speak clearly, the understanding of complicated legal doctrine – but frankly, that’s not what will distinguish you here. That’s just the price of admission. You all have that, or you wouldn’t be here. What we expect of our lawyers here is something more than technical mastery. We expect an instinct and a commitment to do the just and the right thing, the perspective that comes from experience, and the “constant exercise of good judgment . . . in ambiguous circumstances.” We expect you to be like Jack.

And to those of you who have been with the Department a little longer, whether you like it or not, you are standing in Jack’s shoes by serving as mentors and role models to our newer lawyers. When I started, Jack was the giant I looked to for guidance. He was my role model. But now, there’s a new generation of lawyers at the Department. And there’s a new generation of Jack Keeneys as well. A new generation of wise heads who carry on the culture and traditions of this place. You may not feel like a Jack Keeney. But you know what, Jack never felt he was a legend either. What I saw and learned from Jack, a new generation is learning from you. So, be aware of that responsibility, think of Jack, and teach them well.

Jack was, and is, part of the bedrock of this Department. For 59 years, Attorneys General and Deputy Attorneys General came and went, while Jack remained as a constant beacon of justice. And although some would say that with his passing he is no longer with us, that is not true. Over the 59 years we had the privilege of having him here, he fundamentally changed this institution, and cemented into it those things we are most proud of when we stand up in court and say we represent the people of the United States of America. Because of Jack Keeney, the Department of Justice is a better place.

Updated September 17, 2014