by Martha Smith
From the time Krystina Jackson was in the first grade, she knew she wanted to be a lawyer. The oldest of four siblings and coming from a long line of public servants, she wanted to follow in their footsteps of leaving the world just a little better than how they found it, but she had to do it in a way that made sense for her.
“My entire family consists of teachers, nurses, farmers and members of the military, each and every one of them devoting their lives to caring for people and making the world a better place,” Jackson stated. “I decided to use my strengths to help people, and all signs pointed to being a lawyer.”
In 2012, Jackson graduated from North Jackson High School already in her sophomore year of college. 2018 saw her graduating from law school at the University of Alabama, where she passed the bar and was first hired at the Jackson County District Attorney’s office in October of that year as a Victim Services Officer (VSO). However, Jackson County was not Jackson’s first choice; she had dreams of practicing law in a big city like Birmingham or Montgomery.
“I wanted to go big. As a teenager I thought if I came back to Jackson County, I wouldn’t be a success. But you adjust. Success is not measured in dollars. Do you love what you do? Are you happy? You can’t put limits on that, and don’t go by what others say. It’s not what the papers say. If you did everything, heart and soul, you did good. That is success, and that comes with maturity.”
Jackson recalls conversations with District Judge John H. Graham, a mentor, who kept trying to get Jackson to consider coming back and working near her hometown, but Jackson thought she had other plans. That is, until Graham talked her into coming home for a visit and taking a small tour of the District Attorney’s office.
“Krystina is a top-notch prosecutor, dedicated to serving the people of Jackson County and to standing up for the victims of crime in particular,” Judge Graham stated. “Her determination and passion will carry her far into our profession. She could have gone to any top-level law firm or DA’s office in this state, or elsewhere, yet she chose to come home. We are most fortunate indeed to have her return to Jackson County and join our local District Attorney’s office.”
“That first day, I was hooked,” said Jackson of her visit. “I was so excited because I knew that was where I wanted to be, and I was disappointed there wasn’t an opening for me as an Assistant District Attorney (ADA), but there was an open slot for a VSO, so I took it. I’m so thankful I did because it gave me a lot of experience, and dealing with victims is something all prosecutors should do. I want to be a bigger part of my community and where I came from. This place made me what I am, so I want to give back.”
Jackson served as a VSO from October of 2018 until May of 2019, when she was hired on as an ADA, coincidentally, only the second female ADA that Jackson County has seen in its history, the first being Carol Wallace, a fellow University of Alabama graduate, in 1979.
Wallace recalled being interviewed by a newspaper reporter for being the first female ADA in North Alabama.
“I hadn’t really noticed I was the first female ADA until the reporter showed up one morning. I did the interview and smiled for the camera and just had to laugh,” Wallace stated. “I grew up on the University of Alabama campus, and most of the women around me did what they wanted to do. There were no strings attached to them because they were female, so this was a new way of thinking for me.” Wallace also recounted the story of a man showing up in her office after reading said article because he wanted to see what a lady lawyer looked like.
Wallace served as an ADA for one year before moving back to Tuscaloosa to teach law for 18 years, establishing Elder Law as an actual practice that one would have to certify for. Wallace was self-taught in the practice and helped establish a network throughout the nation that allowed Elder Law to become mainstream.
Of her time in Jackson County, Wallace stated, “I have so many great memories. It was a great way to start a career with lots of courtroom experience. To Krystina I would say, you have to love what you’re doing, and you have to love people. Congratulations. Soak it in. This is truly a great career or a great launching pad. Either way you choose, it will be wonderful experience for you and will serve you well.”
As an ADA, 26 year old Jackson serves as prosecutor in District and Circuit courts, allowing her to work with a broad range of cases from speeding tickets to murder cases, and she also functions as a Juvenile Court Prosecutor.
“I work with children and young adults to encourage positive choices moving forward and reducing the risk of re-offending. I also use my position to work with adults in the court system who suffer with mental health issues.”
Of being only the second female ADA in the county’s history, Jackson stated that her mother never raised her children to feel as if a person’s gender divined whether or not they had a voice or whether or not they could accomplish a goal or achieve a dream.
“I never felt like being a girl should hold me back from anything.”
This past month, Jackson had the opportunity to work her first jury trial beside her boss, District Attorney Jason Pierce and with Circuit Judge Jenifer C. Holt presiding – two people Jackson holds in very high esteem.
Of his ADA, Pierce stated, “Krystina is an outstanding lawyer and a hard worker, and I’m grateful to have her as a prosecutor. She has a zeal for justice and for her community, as well as a strong sense of fairness and compassion.”
“To be with Jason Pierce and Judge Holt, and to be able to say I did my first jury trial with them in Holt’s courtroom is an honor,” Jackson stated. “One of the people I admire most is Judge Holt. So much of law is, well, it’s the year 2020, and this field is still so male-dominated. Judge Holt has made it easy to look up to her. I will probably never be a judge, but I hope I have at least half of her grit. I love that word: grit. That’s what I want, to have her grit and integrity.”
The trial was the State of Alabama v/s Jerry Clayton Grider, who stood accused of kidnapping, burglary and assault. Witnesses were split in half between she and Pierce, and Jackson was also able to deliver the closing argument to the jury, recounting the ordeal the victim endured in detail and using the evidence and facts as the basis of her argument. The result? The jury returned with a verdict of guilty on all three charges.
“It’s such a heavy moment. Your part is over, and the rest is up to them. It’s done, and whatever they have decided will be absolute,” said Jackson, of the moment the jury files back into the courtroom. “Jason taught me, you have to make up your mind how you did. Before you know the outcome, you have to know that you did everything you could and that you stand by what you did. You have to know you did your best before they hand down the verdict. You have to be at peace with the job you did.”
Of Jackson’s performance in Holt’s courtroom, Holt stated, “Jackson County is fortunate to have the talented Krystina Jackson as Assistant District Attorney. I knew that Krystina was very intelligent when she was hired by our District Attorney, Jason Pierce. What I’ve learned in the months since is that she has a tremendous work ethic and boundless energy for the law. She comes to court well prepared. She knows the facts of her case and the law that applies to it. I had the pleasure to serve as presiding judge in Krystina’s first jury trial and to watch her present the State’s case to the jury. She is an excellent trial attorney. I state, without hesitation, that the people of Jackson County have outstanding representation with Krystina Jackson as Assistant District Attorney.”
Jackson’s favorite part? Getting to call the victims and/or their families to let them know the outcome of a case.
“When I walk away, those victims know we cared and fought for them. Whether good or bad. Whether I tell them with happiness or relief or sadness or a mix of emotions, telling them justice was served is the best feeling. I’m here at Jackson County, and I’m helping people, but I’m helping my people. I love my job and the people I get to do it with and the people I get to do it for.”
As for future plans, Jackson doesn’t want to be anywhere else. As for the road less traveled, Jackson stated the only bump was the popular notion that becoming a lawyer was unattainable, and she credits the people around her – parents, grandparents, teachers, coaches, family, friends and coworkers, who wouldn’t let her quit.
“I just try, every day, to be that person for someone else and show other little girls, that the thing you think you cannot do – You can. You should. You will.”