Jacqueline Bunn was 10 years old when her cousin opened his private law practice.
Bunn, ever the Perry Mason fan, was regaled with tales about the cases he worked on. When she came to UGA, Bunn held onto the notion of getting a law degree but focused her immediate attention on the broadcast journalism program, her sorority, community service, and serving as the third director of the Black Theatrical Ensemble.
When she went to law school, she only applied to one program.
“I was always very grateful for the opportunities UGA afforded me,” says Bunn ABJ ’84, JD ’87. “At this point in my career, I can look back and truly say that the university prepared me to go wherever I wanted.”
Now, more than three decades into a stellar career, Bunn serves as the vice chair of Georgia’s State Board of Pardons and Paroles, a position that required a gubernatorial appointment. “I was blessed with a very supportive family that never told me because I’m a woman, I couldn’t,” says Bunn.
Her career began with 10 years in private practice in New Jersey, but Bunn has been working for the State of Georgia since 1997. Now, she and her colleagues make decisions that impact the future of prisoners’ lives, such as if they receive parole, how much time they serve in prison before parole, and the granting of pardons.
In 2022, the board considered almost 14,000 inmate cases, all of which were delicate balancing acts of public safety and second chances.
“It’s a bit of a challenge. You have family members whose loved ones have been impacted by a crime, and they never want to see the person released, but at some point, of those parole-eligible, most are going to be,” says Bunn.
Through her career, Bunn has gained an understanding of “the importance of having victim input in the criminal justice process.” So when former Gov. Nathan Deal called her into his office to speak about her current appointment, they spoke about criminal justice reform.
“With each job, there’s been an opportunity to make significant changes that will improve the quality of the lives of the citizens of this state,” says Bunn, who also has served as deputy director of legal services for the Georgia Department of Public Safety, where she helped write legislation promoting highway safety.
Bunn was introduced to the Board of Pardons and Paroles during her time in Georgia’s attorney general’s office, where she handled the board’s cases, which were mostly about inmate rights. In fact, she helped argue a Pardons and Paroles case before the U.S. Supreme Court in 2000.
When Bunn moved back to Georgia, she felt drawn to public service—and a desire to make a difference. “I decided instead of chasing money in private practice, I really wanted to give back to my state,” she says. “I was moving back home and felt compelled to work for the citizens of the state.”
In addition to her vice chair role, Bunn also sits on the Georgia Commission on Family Violence and serves as chair of the state’s victims compensation fund. Bunn also has been an active member of the Georgia Association of Black Women Attorneys since 2003, including being president in 2013 and hosting its television show for 10 years. She’s received numerous awards for her dedication and desire to uplift young attorneys.
“I’ve always had a heart for public service, and I do believe that we’re here to give back. It’s not just about me; it’s about helping others,” she says.