District attorney Joey Rushing prepares as retirement nears
“My goal has always been to try to help as many people I can – on both sides when possible,” explained Franklin County district attorney Joey Rushing. When he retires Jan. 16, 2023, it will be after an 18-year career in the role.
FINDING HIS WAY
“I changed my college major seven times,” recalled Rushing, a 1988 graduate of Russellville High School. “I finally decided to go to law school because I didn’t have any clue what I wanted to do at that time.”
After graduating from law school, he decided to serve as a clerk for a judge for a year, after which he went into private practice.
“After a year as a criminal defense attorney, I realized I’d rather be a prosecutor,” he explained, “and it really worked out. I loved it, and so that’s where I’ve stayed.”
Rushing took on the role of assistant district attorney for Franklin County in August 1997, on a part-time basis, transitioning to full-time around November of that year. He stepped into the role of district attorney in January 2005.
APPEAL OF THE JOB
Rushing said he likes being able to stand up for the victims in cases, to serve as their voice and make sure those who should be are held responsible.
“As the prosecutor, you get the chance to weigh the facts of a case and a make a plea offer, which I’ve always thought was good because you can adjust the punishment based on the facts,” he explained.
Rushing said a good example is someone who’s struggling with drug addiction but has gone to rehab and is working to turn their life around.
“You can either drop the charge or reduce it way down to reward someone for really trying to change their life,” he explained, noting on the other side of things, if dealing with somebody who has done “something horrible, like victimizing a child,” then as the prosecutor, he can seek a maximum sentence when appropriate.
Rushing said that flexibility is a key aspect he values about the job. “There’s discretion on sentencing as part of a prosecutor’s job, to reward or penalize based on good or bad behavior.”
“In a job like this, you make a lot of people angry,” Rushing admitted. “If you’re prosecuting a loved one of theirs, they get very upset at you a lot of times or think you’ve got something personal against them, but I’ve never prosecuted anybody because I didn’t like them or had some kind of grudge. I’ve always tried to be as fair as possible, even with people who didn’t agree with me, and I hope that will be my legacy.”
COLLEAGUES WEIGH IN
“It has been an honor for our department to work alongside Joey all these years,” praised Red Bay Police Chief Janna Jackson. “He and his office have always been just a phone call away in answering questions and assisting our investigators and officers in making cases. We appreciate his dedication and hard work for Franklin County.”
Franklin County Sheriff Shannon Oliver echoed her sentiments.
“Joey’s been a good DA, and we appreciate everything he’s done,” Oliver said. “We’re sure going to miss him, but we hope he enjoys his retirement.”
Shea Madden, executive director for Franklin County Community Corrections, said Franklin County has been “blessed” to have Rushing as its district attorney for so many years.
“His dedication to the office has truly been steadfast,” Madden said. “I have seen firsthand the care and compassion he has shown toward others while dealing with difficult cases.
“I am honored to call him a friend, and we’ll miss him and his great sense of humor around the courthouse,” Madden added.
Russellville Police Chief Chris Hargett agreed.
“I hope he enjoys his next chapter in life,” Hargett said. “Joey was always ready and willing to help. He’s an excellent trial attorney who is very smart in the courtroom. He has always been able to keep his composure not only in court but also in public. He’ll truly be missed, and we wish him nothing but the best.”
Russellville attorney John McReynolds also shared his thoughts. “Joey has always been a well-respected attorney and prosecutor, and he’ll be highly missed by everyone,” McReynolds said. “We’ve been very fortunate to have him as our district attorney for so many years.”
LOOKING TO THE FUTURE
Looking to the future, Rushing said he has applied for a few jobs, explaining he might want to return in a part-time role to assist a local prosecutor’s office – perhaps even in Franklin County, if it were to work out that way.
Although he said his love for his legal career remains strong, and he hopes to continue part time in some capacity, he’s also ready to slow down a bit.
“I categorize myself as somebody that loves their job, and I’m going to miss a lot of the day-to-day work, but I’m going to have to try to learn how to relax and slow down a little – enjoy things in my personal life more,” Rushing explained.
As a self-described “homebody,” Rushing said he hopes to pursue personal interests in his retirement. “I want to do more personal things instead of always working, spend more time with my family and friends,” he explained, noting he enjoys exercising, especially running, as well as his life-long hobby of collecting baseball cards.
His family includes his wife, Tessa Rushing, a long-time teacher at Russellville Elementary School. They’ve been married for 24 years. They have two grown children: son Will, who recently graduated from the University of North Alabama, and daughter, Leah, who’s in college at Northwest-Shoals Community College.
STEPPING INTO THE ROLE
Jan. 17, 2023, the day after Rushing’s last in the role of Franklin County district attorney, recently-elected Jeff Barksdale, who has been the assistant district attorney for several years, will step into the role.
“I have just as much confidence in him now as I did when I hired him,” Rushing explained. “I feel like he’ll do a great job. He’s very smart and cares so much about his work and making sure he does a good job. I think he’ll do an excellent job as district attorney.”
For his part, Barksdale said it has been “an honor to work as assistant district attorney for Joey for the past nine years, and I would like to thank him both for that opportunity and for his decades of dedicated service to Franklin County.”
Rushing said Barksdale has hired an assistant district attorney, Fallyn Pharr, from the Vina area, who is serving in the position part time now and will move to full-time beginning in January.
“She’s an excellent young attorney with an wonderful work ethic,” Rushing added, “and she’s very good at her job.”