By Jay Edwards, Editor in Chief, Daily Record
Dedicated to the relentless pursuit of justice for the victims. - Inscribed on a plaque outside the Prosecuting Attorney’s office in Little Rock.
“No one believes I was born in Cincinnati,” Larry Jegley told me from his office in downtown Little Rock recently.
That’s probably because the man who is the Prosecuting Attorney for the Sixth Judicial District has been a familiar part of the Central Arkansas community for decades.
“We moved to Little Rock in 1963, when I was 11,” he said. “Before that it was Paducah, Evansville and Dayton.
“My dad was scheduled for other moves with his company, but instead chose Little Rock as our permanent home.”
His parents grew up in rural Ohio, in Claremont County, east of Cincinnati, not far from the Ohio River. “Mom and Dad met there, fell in love, got married and had six kids.”
Jegley’s father worked for Retail Credit Company and besides a short stint in WWII, his entire career was with that firm. He retired in the early ’90s when they were known as Equifax.
In 1970, Jegley was accepted at Hendrix College in Conway, where he says his previous four years at Catholic High School had prepared him well.
“I had a beginning composition class my first trimester at Hendrix. My teacher was also my counselor and one day he called me in to talk about my schedule. I had signed up for some English courses and he told me I didn’t need them, and didn’t need the one he was currently teaching me. He told me I had come out of high school with a skill set that put me past what those classes could do for me. I owe that to Father Tribou. We wrote all the time at Catholic High.”
After Hendrix, Jegley came back to Little Rock for law school, back when classes were only held at night and were still a branch of the Fayetteville campus.
“I came out of Hendrix in 1974,” he remembers. “The Vietnam War was winding down and I interviewed with both the Arkansas Gazette and the Arkansas Democrat, because I’d been the editor of the campus newspaper my senior year. We had won a bunch of awards. I thought I was a hotshot journalist. But nobody was hiring.”
By luck he says he got a job with a seven-man agency that was an administrative branch of the Arkansas Supreme Court. And the next four years he worked in the Justice Building, around judges.
“It was an excellent experience,” he says. “We were in the basement of the Justice Building. There was a retired circuit judge from Arkadelphia named C.R. Huie, who headed it up. He was very intelligent and quite a character.
“The day I was sworn in, afterwards, I went back downstairs to have some cake with my coworkers, because I had taken a job as the North Little Rock Police Department Legal Adviser.”
He would be taking the place of a guy named Chris Piazza.
The job was funded by a federal grant and Jegley stayed 16 months, until the grant ran out.
After trying his hand at private practice he went to the Legal Clinic faculty at the law school, where he taught next to Paula Casey, someone he calls one of the smartest people he’s ever known. Three years later he had an opportunity to go to work for the Arkansas Public Service Commission, during the time of the Grand Gulf Nuclear controversy.
The road to prosecutor
After a couple of years teaching, Jegley got a call from a judge Tom Glaze, who was then on the Arkansas Court of Appeals.
“We lost Justice Glaze a few years ago,” Jegley said, “much to the heartache of everyone who knew him. He was a great guy.”
Glaze told him the Court of Appeals had been given jurisdiction over the Public Service Commission’s appeals and there was funding for a new program called Central Staff.
Jegley interviewed and the next thing he knew he was the Court’s chief staff attorney.
“We worked on big cases, trying to get out ahead of things for the court. One thing we addressed were the many cases that carried over, through the summer, from one session to the next. The old way of submitting cases had to do with how long it had been on the docket, not whether it was briefed. We flip flopped it and said, once it’s briefed, it’s ready to be submitted, no matter what its age.”
Then in 1984 Jegley helped with his friend Mark Stodola’s unsuccessful campaign for prosecuting attorney.
“That was before I knew Chris Piazza was also going to run,” he said. “I ended up helping a friend against a friend.”
Six years later, Piazza decided to run for circuit judge and he called on Stodola to suggest he run for the prosecutor’s spot. Stodola had made a name for himself for closing down drug houses, as Little Rock’s City Attorney. He took over the prosecuting attorney job in January of 1991.
One of Stodola’s first moves was to call Jegley to say he was going to need a chief deputy. “I told him I didn’t know a damn thing about being a prosecutor,” Jegley laughed.
“He said, ‘Well I need somebody I can trust.’ So I said yes; and my hair went from reddish brown to solid gray.”
At the beginning of 1995, Stodola decided to try for the 2nd Congressional seat, but he lost that bid to Vic Snyder. But that move left a hole in the prosecuting attorney’s office. Jegley decided he would run.
He quickly gathered strong support, as well as money, and one by one by one, the other candidates dropped out; and Jegley was elected to the office without an opponent. He would do three, two-year terms, unopposed; and he just began his fourth, four-year term. There is yet to be an opponent.
“When I first decided to run,” he said, “I called my friends, Greg and David and Charlie and Mike. They all stepped up and answered the call.”
Those four close friends, and many others from his school, are what he calls the “Catholic High connection.”
It is a connection that means a great deal to Jegley; in fact, of his many accomplishments, one he is most proud of is being named a Distinguished Alumnus of his alma mater.
For the victims
The office of the Prosecuting Attorney for the Sixth Judicial District of the State of Arkansas has 45 prosecutors, making it one of the largest law firms in the state.
“We could use more,” Jegley says. “We are in court all the time.”
“Crime ebbs and flows. In the ’80s we had the gang wars. In ’93 and ’94 the homicide rate was sky high.
And it is the homicides that are hardest to predict.”
“Someone asked me once to describe what we deal with in this office. I told them, we deal with things decent people should not have nightmares about.”
And they do it on a day-to-day basis.
“What keeps you going,” he says, “if this is your calling, and it’s not for most lawyers, what keeps you going is that you are going to help restore a little piece of a world that has been destroyed for somebody.
“It may not sound like much, but when you are around the victims and their families, when it is all over, and you see a look, I can’t tell you what that look is, but if you’ve done your job and you’ve held a guilty party accountable, that family gets something back that’s been taken from them.
“That is what it’s all about, and it starts right here in these four walls with these folks.
“I’ve got great investigators, great victim’s assistance caseworkers, great attorneys, great clerical staff.
“You know, we do a lot with a little, relatively speaking.
“I think the taxpayers get a lot of bang for their buck, as far as what they are getting out of this office. It’s because we’ve got such good folks.”
As for what’s next, the head prosecutor says he’s a pretty healthy 62-year old and thinks he’s probably good for another term.
“You talk about finding a job you love. I’ve loved everything I’ve ever done.”