John J. Kelly

Direct: 505.848.1867
Main: 505.848.1800
Fax: 505.848.9710
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John Kelly is an experienced civil litigator and administrative law practitioner. John represents plaintiffs and defendants in a range of business and commercial disputes.

Recently, John represented a New Mexico public utility in a regulatory investigation concerning weather-related service outages. In another regulatory matter, John represented the company that owns and operates New Mexico's largest open pit copper mine before the New Mexico Water Quality Control Commission in a thirty day groundwater remediation hearing.   

A former U.S. Attorney, John handles compliance and enforcement matters for companies in regulated industries or that do business with the government.  He also counsels clients that are the subject of state or federal criminal investigations.  John has defended New Mexico financial institutions in lender liability lawsuits and other commercial disputes.  Other areas of practice include real estate and land use litigation, zoning disputes, securities law violations and business torts. 

In the 1970s, during the first decade of John's law practice, he worked as a civil rights, public interest lawyer.  John handled a number of cases filed in the Southern District of New York raising constitutional issues under 28 U.S.C. § 1983.  Later in New Mexico, he represented Native Americans, tribal governments and Spanish land grants in a wide range of matters.  John has a long history of public service.  He served as United States Attorney for the District of New Mexico in the 1990's, was an elected County Commissioner in Sandoval County, New Mexico in the early 80's and chaired a commission that successfully redrew the City of Albuquerque City Council member district seats following the 2000 federal census. 

John was recently selected as "Lawyer of the Year in Administrative/Regulatory Law in Albuquerque" by Best Lawyers of America ®, where he has been consistently listed since 2007.  He is rated AV® Preeminent by Martindale Hubbell , and was recently selected by the New Mexico Business Weekly as one of its "Best of the Bar in Litigation" in 2011. In addition, John has been recognized by Southwest Super Lawyers® based on a peer review.  Within the Litigation Department at Modrall Sperling, John heads the Commercial Practice Group.


  • Cornell University Law School, J.D., 1974
  • Georgetown University School of Foreign Service, B.S.F.S., 1969

Bar Admissions

  • New Mexico
  • New York
  • U.S. District Court for the District of New Mexico
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Tenth Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit
  • U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit

Practice Areas


Reported Cases

  • Phelps Dodge Tyrone Inc. v. N.M. Water Quality Control Commission, 2006 NMCA-115, 140 N.M. 164, 143 P.3d 502
  • Alba v. Peoples Energy Resources Corp., 2004 NMCA 084
  • U.S. v. Barajas-Chavez, 162 F.3rd 1285 (10th Cir. en banc 1999)
  • Pueblo of Santa Ana v. Kelly, 932 F. Supp. 1284, 104 F.3rd 1546 (10th Cir. 1997)
  • U.S. v. Evans, 42 F.3rd 586 (10th Cir. 1994)
  • U.S. v. Chavez-Palacios, 30 F.3rd 1290 (10th Cir.1994)
  • Morris v. Watt, 640 F.2d 404 (D.C. Cir. 1981)
  • Klumker v. Allred, 112 N.M. 42, 811 P.2d 75 (1991)
  • National Indian Youth Council v. Watt, 664 F. 2d 220 (10th Cir. 1981)
  • National Indian Youth Council v. Andrus, 501 F. Supp. 649, 623 F.2d 694 (10th Cir. 1980)
  • Harjo v. Andrus, 581 F. 2d 949 (D.C. Cir. 1978) 

Government Service

John Kelly served as United States Attorney for New Mexico from 1993 to 2000, and as the U.S. Southwest Border Representative from 1998 to 2000.  In the former position, he prosecuted the first narcotics racketeering cases in New Mexico as well as several significant health care fraud cases.  He obtained the country's first conviction of a U.S. corporation for smuggling and harboring illegal aliens.  He also directed a sensitive computer forensic investigation at Los Alamos National Laboratory in 1999.  As the Justice Department liaison to the southwest border, John frequently traveled throughout the U.S. - Mexico border region meeting with Mexican and U.S. officials on a variety of law enforcement, trade and immigration issues.  Within the U.S. Attorney community, John was a leader on issues affecting Indian Country, including Indian Gaming, public lands and resource issues, and public safety.


John Kelly has been active in civic and public life in New Mexico for 30 years.  

  • Democratic nominee for Congress in New Mexico's 1st Congressional District, 2000
  • Chair, Albuquerque Redistricting Commission, 18-member commission charged with redrawing Albuquerque's city council districts following the 2000 federal census, 2001
  • County Commissioner, Sandoval County, New Mexico, 1980-1982
  • Past Chair, Middle Rio Grande Council of Governments, member of the region's Urban Transportation Planning and Policy Board
  • Chair, New Mexico State Personnel Board, 1991-1993
  • Mediated the state's Payday loan controversy between industry and consumer advocate representatives at the Governor's request.  In 2007, the New Mexico legislature enacted new legislation regulating the Payday loan industry based on the consensus position from the mediation.
  • Served on U.S. Mexico Bilateral Task Force comprised of members with experience in border states in a wide range of trans-border issues, 2009.  The Task Force report can be found here.
  • Amy Biehl High School Foundation, Foundation Board Member, 2005 – present.
  • National Hispanic Cultural Center Foundation, Member, Board of Trustees, 2011 – present.
  • Catholic Foundation of the Archdiocese of Santa Fe, Member, Board of Trustees, 2006 – present.




  • Best Lawyers Lawyer of the Year in Administrative/Regulatory Law - Albuquerque, 2012
  • Best Lawyers of America® in Administrative/Regulatory Law, Commercial Litigation and Land Use & Zoning Law, 2007-present
  • Martindale-Hubbell AV® Peer Review Rated
  • New Mexico Business Weekly Best of the Bar in Litigation, 2011
  • Southwest Super Lawyers® (derived from a lawyer survey) 2007-present; named one of the Top 25 Super Lawyers in New Mexico, 2007, 2008


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