PULASKI COUNTY, Ark. – Teddy Roosevelt once said, “No man is above the law and no man is below it, nor do we ask any man’s permission when we ask him to obey it.”
Sound words that bring to mind a quote from Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegley.
A motto he has carried with him during eight terms as Prosecuting Attorney, the longest in Pulaski County history.
You will not see his name on an upcoming ballot this time around. He has opted to set his love of the law aside and not run for another term.
Inside the Pulaski County Courthouse, he has been as recognizable and as formidable a figure as much as the bust of Count Pulaski himself. And that’s Prosecuting Attorney Larry Jegely, but soon unlike the Count, Jegely will not be part of that legal landscape that he made home for more than 30 years.
“That was sort of forced on me,” Jegely said. “I had every intention of running for one last term.”
Jegley said after a medical diagnosis, the smartest lawyer he knows, his wife Angela, informed him of the decision.
“She wheeled around on me and said ‘Larry Jegley you are not running for re-election. I don’t want you working that hard. I want you spending time getting better so we can enjoy some things’ and that was it,” he said.
He took the advice of counsel, ending his historical run. For Jegley “the law” was not an early calling, but as a young man, right and wrong was.
“I always thought that folks doing the right thing was important. I think a lot has to do with my catholic upbringing and that was galvanized in 4 years at catholic high school,” Jegley said.
But after rubbing shoulders with lawyers while attending Hendrix College…
“I thought that’s pretty cool, that’s pretty cool, I might like to do it.”
After finishing law at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock, the die was cast. He spent a few years working in law, and around law enforcement. Later, he got a call from a closer friend, then-current Prosecuting Attorney and future Little Rock Mayor Mark Stodola.
“He says ‘Hey I’m going to need a chief deputy, and I’d like you to be it, Jegley said.’ “I said Mark I don’t know anything about being a prosecutor. He said ‘I know you’ll have my back and I know you’re a good lawyer.'”
Together, through the early 1990s, yes, those 1990’s, they prosecuted the toughest the county had to offer. But together they were tougher.
“You cross that line of violence, and all bets are off,” Jegley emphasized
The hand he was dealt was always to follow the rules, never tipping the scales. And he played it the way the law saw it.
“Making the criminal justice system work, not just for the victims, but also for the defendants and not just the victims families, but the defendants families too” Jegley said.
Early on, one case that was all locked up for the prosecution was up-ended by a new tool called D-N-A. Prosecutors asked for the test, but when the results came in, knew they would better serve the defense.
Jegley said”As we’re running over here, we are on the phone with the defense attorney saying ‘Hey we don’t think your client is guilty anymore. We think the witness made a mistake or whatever. The D-N-A clears your client, and we want to be the first to make sure the court makes it right”
Jegley has guided the office to a position where it does right and tries to give something. Evidence of that is his work to help usher in the state’s first drug court.
“Out of that has grown veterans court, mental health programs and alcohol rehab programs. Again, merciful sides of the justice system that isn’t topwater, but we are doing it. We are helping people get to a better place.” Jegley said with promise.
In criminal court there are no winners. Someone has already lost someone or something, and someone is about to lose something or someone.
And after more than 30 years of carrying the emotional strain of day in and day out criminal trials, wins and losses and detailed witness testimony that can be graphic, Jegely feels he’s never carried the load alone.
“I don’t know how I’ve dealt with it. There have been thousands of homicides, not to mention all the other devastating crimes that people have had to deal with. It’s almost like a divine hand that attends prosecuting attorneys, myself included, helping us guide through all those things”
Over time he has guided a small army of lawyers he treats like family. On any given moment a fresh-faced attorney or season police officer could stop him. The ladies offer hugs of gratitude and goodbye, the men, a hearty handshake, and a slap on the back.
A sign his passion for the work will carry on.
“I’ve had 300 attorneys train at my office. I’m so proud of every one of them because they all follow my lead and do the right thing,” Jegley said. “Temper justice with mercy and to look for the right balance all the time.”