Longtime court clerk retires
A Sebastian County Circuit Court official who helped push the county’s legal system into the 21st century retires at the end of the year.
Circuit Clerk Denora Coomer will end her 37 years as the Sebastian County Circuit Clerk and former Court Administrator at the end of December. Coomer in her career helped the Circuit Court establish its drug court program, organize arraignments and move from the old courthouse to the courts building.
She will be replaced by Deputy Circuit Clerk Cindy Gilmer. Another circuit clerk will be determined in the 2022 midterm elections.
Coomer first joined the circuit court in 1984 after moving to Fort Smith from Colorado with her husband. She was previously involved in the court system in the Boulder, Colo. Area.
She became Court Administrator after former managing public defender John Settle turned her down for a secretary job at the Sebastian County Public Defender’s Office.
“(He) said he wouldn’t hire me because I was overqualified and referred me back to the judges here,” Coomer said. “I thanked him all the time after that.”
Coomer began her career in the Sebastian County legal system in 1984 in an office “about the size of a motel restroom,” in the old Sebastian County Courthouse, Circuit Judge Michael Fitzhugh said. Circuit Judge James O. Cox said Coomer from the beginning was the go-to person for lawyers.
Circuit Court officials in 2008 moved to the current Sebastian County Courts Building, which increased the number of courtrooms from two to six. Each courtroom has a jury box, too — an increase from the one courtroom with a jury box in the old courthouse.
Coomer and other court officials pushed for the opening of the new facility, Fitzhugh said.
“She was a player, I guess you would say, in the development of this building,” he said.
Before the move to the new building, Coomer, Fitzhugh and former circuit judge James Marschewski in 2002 established drug court in Sebastian County. The program diverts people convicted of qualifying drug crimes from incarceration to treatment and eventually expungement of their charges if all steps in the program are completed.
The three of them traveled to Florida twice and to California once for training.
“It’s been there for years and years, and it’s doing quite well,” Coomer said.
Coomer also moved arraignments to Wednesday to better organize the process. Wednesday was chosen because of long weekends, she said.
“When I first came in, Ron Fields was the prosecuting attorney at that time, and when they were doing arraignments on felony charges, there wasn’t any set time for it. It was just, ‘OK, we just arrested these people; we need to get them arraigned,’” she said. “One thing that I did with the help of Ron was to go to the judges — at the time, there were three — and set up weekly arraignments.”
Coomer was elected circuit clerk in 2013. Fitzhugh praised her for her work in this role.
“That office is as smooth as you could want a clerk’s office to run” due to Coomer, he said.
Coomer said she decided to retire because she and her husband “have a bucket list” they’d like to complete. She also mentioned she’s worked since high school, more than 50 years ago.
As she retires, Coomer said she hopes for success in the Sebastian County Mental Health Court, which was implemented in November and could provide alternative sentencing to around 170 participants annually. She also hopes the court can make up ground from the backlog of cases accumulated during COVID-19.
Beyond that, she’s grateful.
“I have no complaints. The county has been great to me, given me a career that I would not otherwise have had.”