BRATTLEBORO >> This fall, Justin Kenney, a 2010 graduate of Brattleboro Union High School, and the son of Beverly and Ernie Kenney (who own and manage the Brattleboro North KOA Campground on Route 5 in Dummerston), will become the first BUHS alumni in generations to study at Harvard Law School.
Harvard is universally accepted as one of the top law schools in America, and it is among the most difficult to get into. Its alumni include President Barack Obama, and sitting Supreme Court justices Anthony Kennedy, Stephen Breyer, Elena Kagan, and Chief Justice John Roberts.
When Kenney graduated Brattleboro Union High School in 2010, he had two goals.
"I was interested in the legal system and how it affected a lot of people I knew. After high school, I wanted to make a difference by getting involved in how we pick the politicians that write the laws, and I wanted to learn to help people navigate the challenges those laws create."
Kenney did his undergraduate work at Boston University, but he frequently returned to Windham County to get involved in local politics.
"I was interested in supporting candidates I liked, and how to organize a campaign. I didn't have much experience, so I started showing up to events, and volunteering to do whatever needed to be done."
In the summer of 2013, Kenney began his legal career at a Brattleboro law firm, Costello, Valente & Gentry. There, he worked with Tom Costello, a litigator who has practiced in Windham County since 1980, and James Valente, a fellow BUHS graduate (from the class of 2002) recently named one of Vermont's top 40 lawyers under 40.
"They got me involved in every kind of case imaginable. I worked on civil litigation in Newfane, criminal trials in Brattleboro, and complex, emotional divorces. That experience showed me how much clients benefit from good representation, and my goal from that point forward was to become a great lawyer."
Kenney graduated Summa Cum Laude from BU in May of 2014, and was immediately hired to manage the campaign for Democrat James Cargas, who ran for the U.S. House of Representatives in Texas's 7th Congressional District, which represents part of Houston. The campaign faced significant hurdles, both politically (the district having elected a Republican every year since 1967) and legally, since the district lines had been drawn in a manner that a federal court rejected as unconstitutionally designed to discriminate against racial minorities. Although he was defeated, Cargas garnered the highest percentage of votes in any year since 2008.
Kenney was also hired by one of Houston's largest law firms, Andrews Kurth, an international operation which, over its 114 year history, defended portions of FDR's New Deal programs, represented Howard Hughes in the "Spruce Goose" litigation, and produced former Secretary of State, White House Chief of Staff, and Secretary of the Treasury James Baker.
Kenney will end his work in Texas and return to New England later this month to enroll in Fall classes.
"I'm really excited to learn from some of the best professors in the world, and hope that this helps me achieve the goals I've had since I graduated BUHS."
Kenney still returns regularly to Dummerston to help in the family business.