trial attorney

Ken McKenna (attorney)

Kenneth J. McKenna (born May 3, 1953) is an American trial and litigation attorney practicing both criminal and civil law. He is known for being lead counsel on the “Judas Priest Trial“ where he represented the family of a young man who sued Judas Priest (a heavy metal band ) and CBS records alleging that the subliminal message “Do it” embedded on the album Stained Class mesmerized and compelled the young man to commit suicide.

Ken McKenna's career also spans many high-profile criminal cases, landmark sexual harassment cases, and an ongoing presence in the media as a legal analyst.


Ken McKenna was born in Reno, Nevada. He grew up in Las Vegas, Nevada. His first job was delivering newspapers in his neighborhood when he was twelve years old. He worked full time after school (forty hours a week) commencing when his was fifteen years old. He helped his divorced mom with the household bills. He worked full time through out his Junior High, High school and College years as a busboy, front desk clerk, bellman and waiter. It was these early working experiences that later determined the type of law McKenna would practice.

McKenna received his Bachelor’s degree front he University of Nevada and his Juris Doctor (J.D.) from McGeorge School of Law the University of the Pacific in 1980. He was admitted to the Nevada State Bar in 1980 and went into solo practice within his first year out of law school. Currently, McKenna maintains a litigation practice in Reno, Nevada.

Criminal Defense Cases

Ken McKenna began his criminal trial attorney career defending his older bother Patrick McKenna on the charge of Murder in the First Degree. The death penalty was sought by the State. Since that time, in his career as a criminal defense attorney, Ken McKenna has successfully defended against the Death Penalty on numerous occasions.

In 2003, McKenna convinced a jury to not give the death penalty to Larry Peck a man convicted of shooting a police officer in the chest with a high powered rifle during a stand-off. McKenna’s success in arguing for life in this case which by all predictions would result in the death penalty earned McKenna acclamation and notoriety among Death Penalty opponents nationwide. McKenna remains an outspoken opponent of the death penalty considering it "a barbaric and a misused tool of self aggrandizing prosecutors with political ambition, which serves no useful purpose to society, but sustains people’s baser instincts.

Sexual Harassment Litigation

Ken McKenna has worked to ensure women’s rights in the workplace are free from discrimination and sexual harassment. Nevada Patrol Woman Mary Howard contacted McKenna who accepted her sexual harassment case against the Nevada Highway Patrol.

Howard alleged that she was sexually harassed and discriminated against in her employment as a highway patrol trooper. She described a pervasive “Good Old Boys” attitude among management that did not want female troopers in their ranks. The case went to a federal jury trial which resulted in the largest jury award in the State of Nevada for sexual harassment against the Highway Patrol.

McKenna went on to represent other female troopers against the Nevada Highway Patrol and other female law enforcement employees with other police agencies. His work would change the way women were treated in law enforcement in Nevada.

In a different type of case involving female discrimination, McKenna litigated against the Pioneer theatre in Reno, Nevada for knowingly not having adequate restroom facilities for the women patrons. They were forced to line up for the lobby restrooms in large numbers at intermission. The litigation resulted in the substantial expansion of the number of restroom facilities.

McKenna has represented employees in both the private and public sector in cases involving discrimination, whistle-blowing, safety issues, and retaliation.

McKenna has appeared numerous times before the Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals in San Francisco, California advocating and arguing for employee causes on behalf of his clients.

The Judas Priest Trial

Ken McKenna’s most notable case, one which received national and international attention, was the Judas Priest Trial. McKenna represented the mother of Ray Belknap, the young man that had taken his own life after repeatedly listening to the Stained Class album by Judas Priest (a heavy metal band). The case involved fundamental and Constitutional free speech rights. The First Amendment issue had dramatic potential consequences for the music industry. McKenna proved that a series of subliminal “do it” messages were embedded in the song "Better by You, Better than Me." McKenna alleged that these subliminal messages coupled with the song's overt suggestion that suicide was "a good thing to do" mesmerized and compelled Belknap to take his own life. The three week trial was watched closely by the music industry and constitutionalists across the country and worldwide.

The judge's ruling on the free speech issue stated that subliminal messages were not protected speech under the First Amendment to the United States Constitution and therefore were not entitled to protections as such.

Legal Commentary

Ken McKenna has appeared as a legal commentator in his local broadcast market as a legal specialist and to give expert analysis of legal issues. He has appeared nationally on Geraldo, Oprah Winfrey, Jerry Springer, MSNBC, ABC, CBS, MTV, NBC, FOX and on many other sydicated televisions news and talk shows. He has been a guest on several radio talk shows giving legal analysis of cases and newsworthy legal events. McKenna has toured on the professional speaker circuit and spoken at college campuses about the law and cases with which he has been involved.

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