District Judge David L. Reynolds on Thursday reached a milestone, having now served on the bench for 30 years.
It all started with a shift in juvenile justice in late-1988.
At the time he decided to branch out and consider becoming a judge, he was the 20th Judicial District's chief deputy prosecuting attorney. The Arkansas Supreme Court in late-1988 determined the Arkansas juvenile justice system imposed as it was was unconstitutional and sought reform.
"As a result, juvenile cases were thrown into the circuit courts until addressed by the legislature," Reynolds told the Log Cabin Democrat.
During this time frame, representing families and juveniles in court was part of Reynolds' job description. So, in early-1989, when the legislature announced it would create 17 new circuit and chancery-juvenile judgeships, Reynolds decided to step up and put his name in the hat for a chance at filling this new role upon learning one of the positions would serve the 20th Judicial District, which includes Faulkner, Van Buren and Searcy counties.
"I thought I knew as much about juvenile law as anyone else, so I put my name in for the appointment," Reynolds said. "After a long process, I got the call from Gov. [Bill] Clinton's office that I would be appointed."
Entering this newly-created role, Reynolds said he thought he was fully prepared. But, serving as a judge in juvenile court can be difficult.
"I was aware of the circumstances some people have to deal with, but this job opened my eyes to a whole new view of humanity. It was difficult to leave it in the courtroom and not stress about cases 24/7. It made me appreciate my family and friends more than ever."
Ruling with fairness has always been important to Reynolds, he said.
"I hoped then (and still do) to provide a court where everyone is treated fairly, with dignity and courtesy," he said.
His dedication to the job has become an inspiration to others through the years.
For a few, it has helped influence their career choices.
Conway City Attorney Chuck Clawson considered the moves Reynolds made as a younger judge before making the decision to become a prosecutor himself.
"The biggest decision I had to make as a young lawyer was to leave private practice to take an offer in the Prosecuting Attorney's Office," he told the Log Cabin. "In deciding to take the opportunity, I thought about the lawyers [and] judges I looked up to and admired. Near the top of that list was Judge Reynolds."
Prior to becoming a juvenile judge, Reynolds served as a deputy prosecutor. The timing of Reynolds' choice helped Clawson decide to jump into a prosecutor's position.
"He was a deputy prosecutor early on in his career, so I knew it was the right move to make," Clawson said. "Quite literally, I would not be where I am today if it was not for Judge Reynolds' influence on me."
The relationship between Clawson and Reynolds began to form early on in Clawson's life.
"With my dad being an attorney and later judge, I grew up around the courthouse," Clawson said. "Judge Reynolds has seen me go from following my dad around as a wide-eyed kid, to graduating law school, then becoming a deputy prosecuting attorney, being elected as Conway's city attorney, and most recently, running for circuit judge."
While the relationship between the two has evolved immensely, Clawson said Reynolds' calm tone has always stood out to him.
"I would say our relationship has changed quite a bit over the many years we have known each other. But, I have always considered Judge Reynolds a role model and mentor," Clawson said. "I like to think he realizes just how much I have learned from him and how much he has impacted my career in public service."
For some, Reynolds has become more than a mentor, and has also become a father figure through the years.
Circuit Judge Susan K. Weaver asked Judge Reynolds to swear her in on Jan. 1. She opted to have her swearing-in ceremony at the Old Faulkner County Courthouse in downtown Conway as a tribute to the beginning of her career.
Weaver began working as an administrative assistant for Reynolds, who was the division one circuit judge at the time, in May 2000. When she first interviewed for the position in April 2000, Weaver found Reynolds to be "very intimidating" because of the way "he looked over his glasses as he interviewed me."
"Today, and not long after I started working for him, I realized he is a big teddy bear," she said. "I call him my work dad."
Through the years, the two have grown close.
Reynolds has taken on the form of a boss, a judge, a mentor, a friend, a cheerleader and a role model, Weaver said.
"When I came back to practice in this area [after law school], he was very kind to 'baby' attorneys," Weaver told the Log Cabin. "He isn't just a boss or a co-worker — he and his family are my family. Those of us who worked in the office together — myself, Ginger Hall and Debbie Willock — have a loving bond that I cannot explain. We all remain very close to this day ... 17 years later."
The long-time judge has become a father figure to many.
Charles Finkenbinder, who is the deputy city attorney for Conway, met Judge Reynolds in 2001.
Six years later, Finkenbinder was assigned to be a deputy prosecutor in Reynold's court. While he left the district for a number of years, Finkenbinder has found his way back and has served as a prosecutor in Reynold's court for two years.
"During that time, I learned an awful lot about the law from this man," Finkenbinder told the Log Cabin Democrat. "He maintains order in his courtroom with a calm, easy-going demeanor, but there is a limit to his patience, and the last thing any lawyer or litigant wants is to test that limit."
More to that, in the years Finkenbinder has known Reynolds, the long-time judge has molded into a father figure that Finkenbinder can depend on.
"Personally, I have become a more effective litigator under Judge Reynolds' tutelage, and he always took the time to answer questions and give advice," Finkenbinder said. "My father passed away when I was a teenager, and Judge Reynolds sort of became a substitute father to me, a mentor I could turn to for advice or encouragement, and also talk to about achievements and goals, like a son would share with his dad."
Completing law school took longer for Finkenbinder than it did others due to his service in the military. Because his service career delayed the completion of his law career, Finkenbinder said he felt a little unsure of himself, adding that other incoming lawyers were much younger than he was.
Judge Reynolds did not let what Finkenbinder viewed as a possible setback hinder this attorney and helped lead him.
"Like any good dad, even a surrogate one, Judge Reynolds taught me to control my temper and to always be prepared and respectful," Finkenbinder said. "I could go on and on about Judge Reynolds' dedication to the victims of violence and his commitment to justice and fairness, but it is the role he played in my life, making me a better lawyer and a better man, that has meant the most to me."
Reynolds noted having several sizable accomplishments over the course of his career including:Creating the Domestic Violence Court and working to prevent family violence. Getting local courts on the "cutting edge" of automation and information technology. Creating slots for two additional 20th Judicial District circuit judges. Creating the position for a second judge within the 9th Judicial District. Increasing security within the courtroom "to protect all those in court."
To Reynolds, his greatest triumph is participating and leading the fight against domestic violence.
"The most important part of the domestic violence movement for me is getting to play a vital role in protecting children, men and women from abuse by 'loved ones,'" he said. "The goal is to break the cycle of violence in families and change the prevalent attitude of acceptance of violence."
Through the years, his serious role in others' lives has also led to a number of laughs.
Weaver recalled a time she was using the restroom when suddenly, one of the bailiffs banged on the door in an attempt to scare her ... "and it did!."
"I screamed really loud and Judge came running off the bench into chambers, as did all the [other] bailiffs," she said. "I was 10 shades of red when I walked out to all the court personnel standing there thinking something had happened."
Attorneys, judges and law enforcement officers across the county said Reynolds' milestone is a testament of his dedicated nature and ability to serve others to the best of his ability.
"I don't think you could find a more sympathetic, caring judge than Judge Reynolds. He truly cares for the people," Guy Police Chief Chris Humphrey said. "I had the honor of being sworn in by Judge Reynolds in 2002 for my first law enforcement position. It has been a privilege to work with him since then."
Staff writer Marisa Hicks can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.