by Richard Prior
It was his work as a young bailiff that drew John Jolly to the law.
As an 18-year-old, working on weekends and when school was out, Jolly was assigned to several county courts. The late Ralph Nimmons presided over one of those courts.
“That’s where I really saw how much fun it appeared to be,” said Jolly. “The drama, the excitement. The prosecutors coming in there on murder cases, serial rape cases. When I first contemplated going into law, my single focus was to be a prosecutor. There was the feeling you were doing something good in public service.”
Born in Jacksonville, Jolly majored in political science at the University of Florida, which was also his only choice for law school.
He applied for only one job after graduation, with the State Attorney’s Office. He worked for 10 years under Ed Austin and about one year under Harry Shorstein.
“I enjoyed the State Attorney’s Office litigation,” said Jolly. “There is no greater challenge than prosecuting a murderer or a serial rapist and being in the courtroom, representing the family or the victim.
“The drama of that moment, the angst you have at the possibility that a jury would come back and let somebody like that go, is palpable.”
On the other hand, Jolly also found himself at the jail at 2 in the morning, helping release people “where we had evidence they were either not guilty or there was sincere doubt about their guilt.”
He served as head of the office’s hiring committee and helped train many of the young lawyers who came through.
“The pay was under market for these men and women coming out of law school,” said Jolly. “My hook was heartfelt and twofold. One was it’s the only place you can get significant trial experience if you want to be a litigator.
“Two, it will be one of the few jobs in law where you can always do the right thing.”
It was, and still is, a challenge for the State Attorney’s Office to attract able young lawyers, who know they can earn more at private firms.
“We were targeting the better law students, so they certainly had options,” said Jolly. “You had to convince them there were other reasons to come to the State Attorney’s Office.”
After 11 years, Jolly signed on at the General Counsel’s Office, where he spent 10 years in the Tort Litigation Department. He was the deputy in charge of the department for the last eight years or so, working for Rick Mullaney. He also served as the City’s co-ethics officer, along with Carla Miller.
Mullaney would have made great changes at Florida Coastal School of Law if he had accepted the dean’s position that was offered, Jolly said.
“They would have gotten a great guy,” he said. “Rick is the best I’ve ever seen at administrative organization — creating, reshaping organizations.
“He did it with the General Counsel’s Office. He would have done it with the law school.”
One of the planks in John Delaney’s campaign for mayor was the creation of a comprehensive ethics code for the City. After Delaney won, he named Jolly to the committee that would draw it up.
“You don’t want to recreate the wheel; you want to look to other cities and states and see what kinds of ethics codes they have,” said Jolly. “There was a dearth of material.”
The collection of public officials and private individuals came up with a proposed code about 80 pages long after a year and a half of work. Their proposal was sent to City Council, which referred it to the Jacksonville Ethics Commission for review and recommendations.
Jolly was asked to advise the commission on legal points.
The final product, some 60 pages of legislation, became the City’s first ethics code in 1999. The commission also created “some campaign ethics laws, which was very important to John Delaney.”
“We decided to make the code a value-based system,” said Jolly. “The ethics officers would have no part in monitoring compliance with ethics laws. Their role is to be a resource to the city employees.”
Jolly left the General Counsel’s Office in December to join Carla Miller and Howard Skinner at 1819 Hendricks Ave. He is now focused on personal injury law.
“It was a very difficult decision, but it was too big an opportunity to turn down,” said Jolly. “One of the things I love about being here with Howard and Carla is they really believe in what they do. They have a passion for helping people.
“You get some of that same feeling you had when you were a prosecutor and you would help families that had lost a loved one or that had been violated in some way.
“It’s really important to me to feel good about what you do. It’s not about where you end up. We all end up in the same place. It’s about the journey. You’ve got to enjoy what you do as you go through it. Certainly, I’ve enjoyed it.”