We pay attention to what’s going on in our community. If we detect a pattern of abuse, we follow up, we’re here to ensure a safer community for everyone.
Joe didn’t start out to be a civil rights attorney. He arrived to Albuquerque from Philadelphia and went to work at his brother’s criminal defense firm. As Joe was becoming familiar with this new landscape, he noticed a pattern of clients who’d been abused by police, most often people made vulnerable by lack of access to resources—people least likely to have their stories heard and believed. Joe’s focus quickly became civil rights so he could advocate on their behalf.
Joe maintains a commitment and successful record winning on behalf of individuals and classes of persons that result in policy changes benefitting the entire community. In Joe’s first case tried in federal court in Albuquerque, he represented a man who was walking home from the VFW Hall carrying a car radio a friend had given him to fix. It was considered a dangerous neighborhood and when Joe’s client heard a car pull up behind him he ran, not realizing it was the police. He didn’t respond to their shouts and they released a dog on him. Joe won a jury verdict of $250,000 that included an award of $150,000 in punitive damages. This victory resulted in changes to the Albuquerque Police Department’s Standard Operating Procedures and policies related to use of dogs in the apprehension of people. Dog are only to be released when the suspect has committed an act of violence. (Betts v. City of Albuquerque, 90-cv-779)
In Lowery v. City of Albuquerque (09-cv-457), Joe represented a certified class of persons who asserted that the City unlawfully seized hundreds of homes on suspicion of drug use in the home. The City’s decision to evict people was based on an ordinance intended to remove occupants from dangerous buildings, including buildings that housed drug manufacturing labs. City officials extrapolated the idea that if making drugs created a toxic environment, using drugs in the building also did so. There is no scientific evidence to support this claim, however it was used to justify a draft ordinance that allowed eviction of residents without due process. This draft ordinance became the operating procedure used by police. Residents could only return after paying for a costly contamination tests and professional cleaning. In one incident, an elderly woman was evicted from her home because her grandson had smoked pot in her garage apartment. Joe and the legal team at the Kennedy Law Firm learned of multiple cases of this draft ordinance’s enforcement and ultimately represented 150 people.
In a case that received national attention, Joe and the team at Kennedy, Kennedy & Ives attained justice and a settlement of $1.6 million for David Eckert, who was unlawfully arrested and subjected to unethical and illegal medical exams including digital rectal searches, enemas and a colonoscopy. Mr. Eckert’s horrific ordeal was not an isolated case, but one in a number of similar violations. Joe’s reflections on these abuses was captured in a New York Times Op-ed by Nicholas Kristof: Joseph P. Kennedy, Eckert’s lawyer, notes that such abuses are not random but are disproportionately directed at those on the bottom rungs of society. ‘It’s an economic issue,’ he said. ‘It’s the indignities forced on people who are not articulate, not educated and don’t have access to legal services.’
In 2014, Joe’s career achievements were recognized by the American Association for Justice’s Leonard Weinglass In Defense of Civil Liberties Award. Joe attended Temple University’s Beasley School of Law. He is the father of eight children, a rabid University of New Mexico Lobos Fan, dedicated yoga practitioner, and devotee of Our Lady of Guadalupe.
To learn more about Joseph's cases, please go to our blog: The Second Wave