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Thank you for your service

By Colin Jorgensen, Risk Management Litigation Counsel

I spent over a decade as a litigation attorney at the Arkansas Attorney General’s Office, where I handled many constitutional challenges on behalf of the state. I defended the state’s definition of marriage, abortion laws, GIF appropriations, the panhandling laws, and the April 2017 executions. It sometimes felt like everything I worked on was intensely politicized, but I defended cases without regard to politics or personal opinions — exactly as an advocate should.

When I joined the AAC as a litigation attorney in the summer of 2017, I did not know what to expect. In the summer edition of this magazine, the editor of the magazine wrote an article about me entitled, “He’s No Cowboy.” Truer words have rarely been spoken. I’m a city slicker, accustomed to the comforts and conveniences of urban life. Court experience notwithstanding, I’m not an obvious candidate to represent county officials across Arkansas. But I am a people-lover, and I have trained myself to refrain from judgment of others, especially judgment in the form of contempt prior to investigation. I commenced this new chapter with no expectations beyond the hope that you would give me the opportunity to prove myself worthy of your counsel.

I’ve been around long enough now to share a few thoughts about county officials in Arkansas, as I’ve come to know you. First, although you may trudge through “political” issues from time to time, there is little to no political contempt in your hearts. The county judges, sheriffs, circuit and county clerks, treasurers, assessors, collectors, coroners, and justices of the peace of Arkansas, are genuinely motivated by the people you serve — not by political affiliation or personal gain. Your staff follows your lead on this, and that ensures the success of your offices. You care about getting important work done, from road maintenance to public safety to jail administration to budget management to tax assessment and collection, and the list goes on. Your actions are not driven by pledges to donors or powerful constituents, nor do you make decisions based on what will most likely ensure perpetual election. Honestly, I have no clue who belongs to what political party or faction among you. I could look you up and figure that out, but it doesn’t seem to matter to you, and it sure doesn’t matter to me. Thank you for that. And thank you for your service.

Second, although all counties and county officials have unique concerns, you care about the greater good of your citizens, not gaining advantage at the expense of others. It is clear that you discovered long ago — or perhaps you always knew — that local governments, and local officials, are stronger together than divided along arbitrary or capricious lines. No matter how divided our citizenry may be nationally, county government in Arkansas is united, and is in many ways the bedrock of our society. You perform the essential tasks of civilization, and you do so with grace and honor. The incredibly successful legislative session that you just enjoyed is a perfect example of your unity, and the power you wield for the greater good when you act as a unified force. It was amazing to witness. Thank you for your service.

Third, although you understand the limits of what you can do for your citizens, you each wish you could do more. Countless phone calls pour into the AAC office every day from county officials. You call seeking advice about how to do things the right way and how to best serve your citizens. You express understandable frustration when you learn that the law requires you to do something in a way that may be less effective than your intuition. You seek access to resources or knowledge in the hope that you may achieve something that would not be achievable otherwise. You seek to tackle and solve seemingly intractable problems, even when you know your power is limited, or you are perhaps powerless. You try your best, even when others have failed, and even when you think you are likely to fail. Thank you for your faithful dedication to the important work that you do. Thank you for your service.

I’d like to specifically thank the many county judges who have entrusted the AAC and the private law firms we have assembled to pursue litigation against opioid manufacturers and distributors on behalf of Arkansas counties. And I’d like to specifically thank the many clients I’ve represented and currently represent in litigation in state and federal court. As you’ve read about in this magazine, we’ve expanded the AAC Risk Management litigation team, we’re handling more cases internally, and it’s going well in large part thanks to cooperative and gracious clients in the cases. Nobody likes being sued, but it happens to the best public servants, and it is an honor and a pleasure to represent you in court.

When I come to work each day, I know that if you were in my position, you would do what it takes to ensure the best possible outcomes in the work, whether handling lawsuits or providing advice or calling bingo at a conference. Just as the people you serve provide the motivation to make you the great public servants you are, the people we serve do the same for us. Above all else, thank you for that.

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