Justice William J. Kelly was born on April 13, 1860. He attended St. Joseph's Parochial School and Public School 9, graduating in 1874, and went on to study law at the office of Charles E. Crowell and future Supreme Court Justice Edward S. Clinch. Kelly was admitted to the bar in 1881. In 1903, Justice William J. Gaynor, future Mayor of New York City, suggested Kelly's nomination to the Supreme Court for the Second Judicial District.
Kelly won election to the Supreme Court in 1903 and 1917. Justice Kelly was temporarily designated to the Appellate Division, Second Department by Governor Charles S. Whitman in 1918 and Governor Nathan B. Miller made the appointment permanent in 1921. Governor Smith eventually named him Presiding Justice.
Kelly was a member of the Brooklyn and Queens County Bar Associations, several clubs and religious societies, and served as a trustee of the Church of St. Joseph.
He married Elizabeth A. Scott in 1883 and had three children; his son, Edward Kelly, was elected City Court Judge in Queens in 1926 and sworn in by his father.
William J. Kelly died suddenly on October 11, 1927 at Long Island College Hospital at the age of 67. His family believed his death was caused by overwork.
"Justice W. J. Kelly Dies Suddenly at 67." New York Times (1923-Current file): 27. ProQuest Historical Newspapers: The New York Times (1851-2007). Oct 12 1927. Web. 10 Feb. 2012. http://search.proquest.com/docview/104071650?accountid=8012.