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Overview

Kelly is a Shareholder in the Litigation Department. She represents professional and family member fiduciaries and individuals in estate, probate and trust litigation, and businesses in real estate, land use and complex commercial litigation. She also represents businesses before government agencies and advises candidates regarding campaign laws. Kelly’s experience spans state, federal and local government forums. She has managed cases in multiple parallel forums, including arbitration, and brought cases successfully through appeal. Her clients appreciate the thoughtful manner in which she finds creative and cost effective solutions to difficult legal issues and seemingly intractable disputes regarding inheritance, personal and family wealth.

Prior to entering private practice, Kelly served as a law clerk to three Florida Supreme Court Justices.  She is regularly recognized by The Best Lawyers in America, Florida Trend and Super Lawyers magazines and is AV Preeminent Rated by Martindale-Hubbell.  She is a frequent lecturer and author on a wide variety of topics related to estate, probate and trust litigation.

Kelly has made significant contributions to the legal profession through her leadership roles in local and state bar associations and her work with the Legal Aid Foundation and North Florida Legal Services. Through these organizations she promotes professionalism in the legal community and access to the courts for all.

Representative Experience

Estate, Probate and Trust Litigation

Kelly has experience in complex and high-stakes estate, probate and trust disputes and litigation, including the following: 

  • Representing trustees and beneficiaries of multimillion dollar trusts in breach of fiduciary duty claims, including claims related to conflicts of interest, investment management, distributions to beneficiaries, trustee compensation, accountings and trustee removal.
  • Litigation regarding the construction of trusts and wills.
  • Will contests, including undue influence challenges.
  • Litigating equitable adoption claims.
  • Defending fraud claims against guardians and other challenges to guardians’ authority.
  • Litigating exceptions to specific needs trusts.
  • Challenging inter vivos transfers.
  • Litigating business succession disputes.
  • Negotiating and litigating trust modifications and terminations.
  • Prosecuting creditor claims against probate estates.
  • Litigation regarding inheritance of unique assets, including multi-million dollar art collection.
  • Litigation regarding powers of appointment.
  • Resolving heir property disputes.

Real Estate and Land Use Litigation

Kelly also represents developers, property owners, management companies and parties to real estate related agreements in a variety of real property and land use disputes, including complex commercial foreclosures.  Her experience in this area includes the following:

  • Representing property management companies in landlord/tenant and leasing disputes, including breach of covenants, ADA claims, disputes over operating expenses, evictions and first amendment issues.
  • Representing property owners in permitting and zoning related disputes, including code violations, ordinance challenges, state and local government sign permit violations, and property rights disputes. 
  • Representing developers and owners in an array of restrictive covenant, condominium and community association disputes.  
  • Representing owners in storm water litigation.
  • Representing owners in boundary and easement related disputes.
  • Representing parties to construction related disputes.
  • Litigating purchase related disputes, including pursuit of claims for specific performance.
  • Litigating real estate related partnership disputes.
  • Litigating partition actions.
  • Representing lenders and corporate debtors in complex real estate foreclosure proceedings, including cases with lender liability, guaranty and deficiency claims.

Government, Administrative, Election and Political Activity Law

Kelly has represented both government entities, and those subject to government rules and regulation, including political and judicial candidates and an array of Florida businesses. Her representations include the following:

  • Challenging government decisions before state agencies and the Florida Division of Administrative Hearings.
  • Representing businesses in procurement litigation over the award of State contracts, including transportation, environmental and security related contracts.
  • Representing government bodies in  pursuit of ethics charges against public officials.
  • Advising judicial and political candidates on election laws.
  • Challenging ballot initiatives for proposed amendments to the Florida Constitution and local ordinances.
  • Challenging constitutionality of state legislation.
  • Navigating various regulatory hurdles for companies expanding into the Florida market.
  • Drafting legislation and agency rules on environmental and real estate related issues, including the  use of coastal erosion protection product that mitigated hurricane damage and condominium related issues.
  • Represented major automobile manufacturers in franchise related litigation before the Department of Administrative Hearings.

Complex Commercial and Fiduciary Litigation

Kelly also represents distressed companies, creditors, receivers and government entities in bankruptcy, receivership, and related adversary proceedings.  Her experience includes the following:

  • Litigating fraud claims against corporate directors and officers. 
  • Representing debtors and unsecured creditors' committees in adversary litigation in bankruptcy proceedings, including representation of Creditors Committee in class action suit.
  • Representing securities brokers and investors in securities fraud arbitrations and litigation, including one of the first cases against Bear Stearns challenging its procedure for valuation of mortgage-backed securities, which ultimately contributed to the company's downfall.
  • Litigating mortgage fraud matters for some of the largest providers of mortgage services in the county.
  • Representing consumer credit data repositories in antitrust litigation.
  • Counsel to insurance companies in coverage disputes, including a case in which she defeated a competing insurer’s attempt to have her client’s procedures declared inconsistent with Florida law.
  • Litigating the rescission of purchase and sale agreements based on allegations of fraud in the inducement and breach of warranties.

Professional & Community Involvement

  • Community Foundation of North Florida, Board Member, 2022-2025
  • Tallahassee Memorial Hospital Foundation Donor Advisory Council, 2022-Present
  • Capital City Bank Community Foundation Board, 2018-Present
  • The Florida Bar, Florida Probate Rules Committee, 2017-Present
  • Tallahassee Chamber, Board Member Grow Business Committee Member, Community & Prosperity Committee Member, 2014-Present
  • Tallahassee Regional Estate Planning Council, 2014-Present
    • Vice President, 2021-2022
    • Secretary, 2020-2021
    • Treasurer, 2019-2020
  • The Florida Bar Real Property, Probate and Trust Law Section (RPPTL), 2010-Present
  • Florida Supreme Court Historical Society, 2010-Present
    • President 2015-2017
    • Vice President, 2014-2015
  • Women United Steering Committee, 2017-2019
  • Florida Bar Judicial Administration & Evaluation Committee, 2010-2016
    • Chair, 2014-2015
  • Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce, Leadership Tallahassee Class XXV, 2007
  • William H. Stafford American Inn of Court, 2002-Present
  • Tallahassee Bar Association, 2000-Present
    • Senior Director, 2022-Present
    • President, 2009-2010
    • President-Elect, 2008-2009
    • Treasurer, 2007-2008
    • Secretary, 2006-2007
    • Director, 2002-2006
  • Legal Aid Foundation, 2000-Present
  • Guardian Ad Litem, 2000-Present
  • Florida Association for Women Lawyers (FWL), 1998-Present
    • Secretary, 2000-2001
    • Public Relations Officer, 1998-1999
  • Attorney Coach of Lincoln High School Mock Trial and Moot Court Teams, 1996-2020
  • Tallahassee Women Lawyers (TWL), 1995-Present
    • President, 1999-2000
  • Florida Bar Foundation Fellow
  • Girl Scouts of the Florida Panhandle, Board Member, 2012-2015
  • Florida Bar,
    • Second Circuit Grievance Committee, 2011-2014
    • Chair, 2013-2014
  • Florida State University Real Estate Trends Networking Conference, Conference Committee Member, 2009-2012
  • Florida State University Law School Alumni Board, Outreach Chair, 2006-2009
  • Florida Bar Appellate Rules Committee, 2004-2010
    • Vice Chair Administrative Practice Subcommittee, 2007-2010
  • Robert Orsek Memorial Moot Court Competition, Chair, 2006
  • Florida Bar Special Committee on Website Advertising Rules, 2005-2006
  • Florida Bar Young Lawyers Division Board of Governors
    • Second Circuit Representative, 2001-2006
    • Executive Committee Member, 2004-2006
  • Florida Bar Advertising Task Force, 2004-2005
  • Florida Bar Judicial Administration, Selection and Tenure Committee, 2000-2002
  • Chief Justice’s Advisory Committee for the Tobias Simon Pro Bono Award, 2001
  • First 150 Florida Women Lawyers Project: Co-Chair Research Committee, 1999-2000
  • Legal Services of North Florida, Legal Intake at Homeless Shelter and Legal Advice Clinic, Volunteer, 1994-2000

Recognition

  • Martha Barnett Women Lawyers of Achievement Award, Tallahassee Bar Association, 2022
  • The Best Lawyers in America®, 2017-2023
  • Tallahassee Democrat, 25 Women You Need to Know, 2019
  • Florida Super Lawyers
    • Business Litigation, 2013-2018
    • Administrative Law, 2014
    • Appellate Practice, 2006
    • Estate & Trust Litigation, 2019-2020
  • Florida Trend’s Legal Elite
    • Commercial Litigation, Hall of Fame, 2010-2022
    • Up & Comer, 2007
  • Women of Distinction, Gemstone Honoree, Law, Girl Scout Council of the Florida Panhandle, 2011
  • Florida Association for Women Lawyers Leaders in Law Award, 2010
  • Attorney of the Year Award, The Florida Law Related Education Association, 2005
  • Lynn Futch Most Productive Young Lawyer Award, The Florida Bar, 2001
  • Martindale-Hubbell, AV® Preeminent™ rated

Publications & Presentations

Publications: Who Pays A Trustee’s Attorneys’ Fees?
Florida Banking|May 2022

Events: THE FIDUCIARY – Responsibilities, Risks and Dispute Resolution
Tallahassee Regional Estate Planning Council|March 2022

Publications: Directed Trusts – Who is Responsible if Something Goes Wrong?
Florida Banking|March 2022

Events: From Start Up To Succession: A Journey through The Business Life Cycle
Tallahassee Chamber of Commerce Professional Women's Forum|October 2021

Events: Decisions Through Our Stages of Life: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Capital Medical Society Membership Meeting & Financial Seminar|February 2020

Events: Ok Boomer - Are you ready to retire?
Tallahassee Regional Estate Planning Council|January 2020

Events: Money Talk: What Financial Phase Are You In Now?
Tallahassee Chamber Conference|August 2019

Events: Women and Wealth - Through the Stages of Life
Professional Women's Forum|April 2019

Election & Political Law News Update, Government & Administrative News Update, Publications: Upcoming Vote on Amendment 10 Ensures Florida's County Constitutional Officers Are Elected Locally
Stearns Weaver Miller News Update |October 2018

Events: Probate Litigation 101: The Nuts and Bolts
Pincus Professional Education Seminar|April 2018

Election & Political Law News Update, Government & Administrative News Update, Publications: Who Runs The World?
Election & Political Law Report |September 2017

Events: Launching Your Campaign | Women Can Run
The Oasis Center for Women & Girls|September 2017

Events: Predicting, Preventing and When Necessary….Preparing for Will Contests
Academy of Florida Elder Law Attorneys|December 2016

Publications: Is Your Discretionary Trust Subject to Garnishment? Maybe...
Doing Business in Florida|November 2015

Events: Fiduciary Litigation- Recognizing, Reducing, and Resolving Risks
Tallahassee Regional Estate Planning Council|February 2015

Events: Evidentiary Objections in Trust and Estate Litigation
Elder Law Section of the Florida Bar|September 2014

Publications: Florida Real Property Litigation, Commercial Mortgages
The Florida Bar|February 2013

Events: Behind the Curtain - Who is Driving the Decision Making Process on Distressed Assets
2012 Real Estate Trends Conference|November 2012

Events: Inspiring Advancement Through Skills Building: Litigation Techniques
Women's Leadership Summit|March 2011

Events: Judicial Nominating Commission Panel Discussion with Governor Ruebin Askew,
August 2009

Events: Prospering in these Economic Times
Big Bend Chapter of the Paralegal Association|February 2009

Events: Exploiting Opportunities and Managing Risks - State Government Changes Impacting the Private Sector
Distressed Situation Update: Real Estate and Beyond|September 2008

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Newsroom

In the Media: Tallahassee Bar Association Bulletin
August 2022

In the Media: TLH Briefcase: Aug. 29, 2021
Tallahassee Democrat|August 2021

In the Media: Briefcase: Aug. 25
Tallahassee Democrat|August 2019

In the Media: 25 Women: Lawyer Kelly O'Keefe aims to help people 'move mountains'
Tallahassee Democrat |March 2019

Firm Announcements: Stearns Weaver Miller Adds 2 Attorneys
June 2016

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