James W. Kehoe was born on September 27, 1925, in Portsmouth, Virginia. His family moved to Florida when he was an infant. After graduation from Miami Senior High School, he joined the Army Air Corps, where he spent two and one-half years serving his country.
After his discharge from military service, Judge Kehoe attended the University of Florida on a football scholarship. There he earned his undergraduate and law degrees. After being admitted to The Florida Bar in 1950, he entered private practice, handling mostly criminal defense cases. From 1955 to 1957, he served as an assistant county solicitor for Dade County. In 1957, he returned to private practice.
While practicing law, he maintained his interest in football, serving as a referee of high school and college games as a member of the South Florida Football Officials Association. He also was a founding member of the Miami-Bayside Kiwanis Club.
In 1961, Governor Farris Bryant appointed Judge Kehoe to the Civil Court of Record. Two years later, he was elevated to the Dade Circuit Court bench, a position he held through reelections until 1977. While a member of the Dade Circuit Court, Judge Kehoe served as the court’s administrative judge and was elected chief judge. Governor Reubin Askew appointed Judge Kehoe to the Third District in 1977. Although his tenure on the Third District lasted only two years, Judge Kehoe made his mark on Florida jurisprudence by authoring more than 200 majority opinions for the Court.
Senator Lawton Chiles recommended Judge Kehoe for a federal judgeship and, in 1979, President Jimmy Carter nominated him for the United States District Court for the Southern District of Florida. After thirty-seven years as a state and federal judge, James Kehoe died in 1998 at age seventy-three. His survivors included his wife of forty-six years, Shirley, and their two children. One of his law clerks at the time of his death recalled that Judge Kehoe, while a state court judge, commented that he hoped to have earned the following inscription on his gravestone: “Good Lawyer, Nice Guy.”