The candidate list for judicial elections continues to grow. Deputy Public Defender Rita Howard Watkins announced Tuesday (May 21) her candidacy for Sebastian County Circuit Court, Division VI, a post now held by Judge James Cox who is prohibited from another term. The nonpartisan election is scheduled for March 3, 2020.
Watkins has worked as deputy public defender for the 12th Judicial District in Sebastian County since 2005. In that role she provides counsel to indigent clients in an effort to determine the best legal defense in criminal cases. She is responsible for all phases of representation from independent investigation to defense at trial.
Watkins sits on the Sebastian County Criminal Justice Coordinating Committee, the Sebastian County Juvenile Justice Prevention Coalition and is a member of the Arkansas Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. Watkins is also a past member of the Arkansas and Sebastian County Bar Associations. In addition, she serves on the Board of Directors for the Sebastian County Law Library and has been an Adjunct Professor in the University of Arkansas-Fort Smith paralegal studies program.
“When I chose to study law, my intent was to ensure that all people involved in the legal system be treated fair, just and with the utmost respect regardless of their race, ethnicity, and socio-economic background,” Watkins said in a statement. “As Circuit Judge, I’ll make sure that I work every day to make that a reality. My experience in all areas of the law makes me the well-rounded, experienced attorney I am today. And I look forward to continuing to serve the community, bringing respect, integrity, transparency and accountability to the bench.”
She earned a bachelor’s degree in political science from Oregon State University and a law degree from Washington and Lee University School of Law in Lexington, Va. Watkins is a Fort Smith native and attended Northside High School. Her volunteer work includes throughout the Phillis Wheatley Women’s Club of Fort Smith, past vice president-Community Impact for the Junior League of Fort Smith and past secretary for the Girls Inc. Board of Directors. Watkins has also served as a Sebastian County Election Commissioner, volunteer basketball coach, and Eta Omicron Adviser for the Delta Gamma Fraternity. She lives in Fort Smith with her husband Jason and daughter Jasmon.
Deputy Public Defender Wendy Sharum announced May 13 her candidacy for Fort Smith District Court, Division Two, for the election also set for March 2020. Dianna Hewitt Ladd and Judge Jim O’Hern announced May 8 their bids for election and re-election, respectively, for judicial posts. Ladd is running for the newly created Sebastian County Judge post, and O’Hern seeks re-election to position one of the Fort Smith District Court. Administrative Law Judge Amy Grimes on April 30 announced her candidacy for the position O’Hern holds.