Prosecuting attorneys Jones and Ward speak at PCBA meeting
September 18-24, 2023
By The Daily Record Staff
The Pulaski County Bar Association opened a new year on September 8 at the Clinton Library with their September general membership meeting. New PCBA President Adrienne Griffis welcomed a sold-out room of lawyers, judges, Bowen Law School students and other guests to the luncheon, that featured Pulaski County Prosecuting Attorney Will Jones and Deputy Prosecuting Attorney Kelly Ward as speakers.
Jones took over the office in January. He first worked in the Pulaski County prosecutor’s office in 2001, shortly after graduating from Bowen. After 11 years there he worked in the attorney general’s office for Dustin McDaniel and after that became the chief deputy prosecuting attorney for the 11 West Judicial District in Pine Bluff.
Ward was in Jones graduating class at Bowen. She was a prosecutor for 18 years before going into private practice with David Kamps. Griffis joined the firm of Kamps and Ward in 2022.
Ward said that when she and Jones began in January, one of the first things they focused on was upgrading the office’s technology. “We made it a priority,” she says. It paid off and in May they were thrilled to receive, from Pulaski County, 120 new computers from Dell Technologies. “They arrived in a big, huge truck,” Ward said. “Everyone was so excited. It was like Christmas. Attorneys all got laptops so when they are in your courtrooms they can be working on multiple things. If their cases aren’t being called up, they can be doing research, they can respond to motions. In that way we are constantly working instead of having downtime. That was a big thing.”
“One thing I want to say about the computers,” Jones added, “so now with the Little Rock PD we have body cams, and there is so much video footage, especially in our homicide files. Now we have the technology to deal with all of it. Thankfully Judge Barry Hyde has been a good friend of mine for a long time, and he helped us out to get that up and going.”
“That is another thing we have worked into is we now have a whole new case management system that is completely paperless,” Ward said. “We will be able to access our files anywhere, and can now share them with defense attorneys instantaneously, even long videos. A body cam video can be like 18 gigs. They are huge and we are going to be able to share those and keep them forever. It is all cloud based. We are very, very excited about our new recordkeeping system. Hopefully it is going to make us even more efficient and help us move through some of these older cases even faster.”
“During the pandemic,” Jones said, “I think the better part of two years, I don’t think there was a jury trial, except one or two over at Simmon’s Arena. It cost the county thousands of dollars to host a jury trial. The office was having to make decisions: Do we try this do we not? So, with the high turnover we had, half of our attorneys hired right before COVID or during COVID, who had been there a couple of years, had never been to live court. They were doing it on Zoom. Now we are trying all these cases rapes and homicides had built up so the lower-level cases were not getting to trial. The ones that Kelly and I had cut our teeth on in sixth division in front of Judge Bogard and Judge Fox, where we fumbled and made our mistakes, they weren’t getting those opportunities. We knew we had to up our training. I think there are some in this room that have been beating up our younger attorneys a little bit who just have not gotten the experience. I just want to tell you; you better get on it now. We are headed that way. We have young, very energetic attorneys.”
“Kelly and I knew one of the things we wanted to change was our approach to juvenile court. The way things had been done is the brand-new attorneys start out either in district court or juvenile court. They would get their feet wet in those courts and then graduate to circuit court after only 6 months to a year under their belt.
One of our law school classmates is the juvenile prosecutor down in Pine Bluff, Nikki Tucker. I felt strongly that we needed more people like Nikki Tucker. People who are dedicated to our juvenile system. People that understand it, know it and are dedicated to helping the kids before they end up in circuit court as a capitol murder defendant. So, the very first meeting we had I said, ‘I want some Nikki Tuckers.’ I told them I thought they were here in our office, and if not, we are going to go out and find them.
I walked into the office two or three hours later and Kelly was talking to Dalton Taylor. She later said we just had our first volunteer. Dalton is a former youth pastor who has dedicated his career to helping the youth.
A couple of days later Renee Parker came in. She sat down in my office and said, ‘I felt like the other day you were talking to me.’ Renee is a former educator, a retired principal for the last 15 years. She knows all too well about correcting behavior and nurturing kids. I think we are on our way.”
Then, Jones said, the final piece of the puzzle came when he ran into Casey Beard at the courthouse one day.
“I had not seen her in many years,” he said. “I thought her philosophy really meshed up with ours. I had an opportunity to reach out to her after that and ask her a question about something and it was an excuse for me to feel her out a little bit about whether she would entertain coming over from the public defender’s office where she had practiced for 20 years in juvenile court. She said, “You don’t know me but you can trust me.” I said, ‘I think I know you well enough and I am going to offer you a job.’ There are very few people around who know as much about juvenile law as she does. We are very fortunate to have her and her years of experience from the other side. Because I think juvenile court, more than anything, is really two sides of the same coin. We all want what is best for the kids. And that is ultimately what is best for our community.”
Will Jones and Kelly Ward (Jay Edwards)