Rita Howard Watkins began as the new city prosecutor for the city of Fort Smith on Oct. 31. As prosecutor, Watkins will advocate on behalf of the city in district court proceedings and report to City Administrator Carl Geffken.
According to a press release issued Tuesday (Nov. 8), the city conducted a comprehensive search to fill the position vacated when former prosecutor Sam Terry was appointed by Gov. Asa Hutchinson to serve as District Court Judge in Sebastian County’s Fort Smith District.
“After vetting and interviewing very qualified candidates, Ms. Watkins stood out because of her familiarity with our community, her skill as an attorney, and her reputation as a tough legal advocate for her clients. We believe she will add a welcomed perspective to the City’s core leadership team and positively affect our organization and community as a whole,” Geffken said, noting that Watkins was selected because of her impressive experience, background, and advancement in the Fort Smith legal community.
Terry was appointed to fill the vacated term of Sebastian County Circuit Judge Claire Borengasser who retired June 1. His appointed term began July 18 and ends Dec. 31, 2024. Following his appointment, the city worked with Ashleigh and William Buckley with the Buckley Law Firm to manage city prosecutor work until Watkins was hired, according to Geffken.
Terry began his work as the city prosecutor Jan. 4, 2021, filling a vacancy created when John Settle, who served as the city’s prosecuting attorney for 11 years, died in 2019.
A native of Fort Smith, Watkins is a graduate of Northside High School. She has a bachelor’s degree in political science from Oregon State University in Corvalis, Ore., and a law degree from Washington and Lee School of Law in Lexington, Va.
Prior to becoming the city attorney, Watkins served as a deputy public defender in Sebastian County since January 2005. Her salary as city attorney is $101,500.10.