Lynnette Collins, Fourth Judicial District Court

When a friend, coworker or even a stranger approaches Lynette Collins and asks for her advice on escaping domestic violence, she won’t get easy answers. Collins, clerk of court for the El Paso Combined Courts, knows from bitter personal experience how difficult it can be to save oneself from an abusive partner.

After 16 years of being victimized by her then-husband in a small Alabama town, Collins fled — after the man poured shotgun blasts into her parked car in an attempt to kill her. “I had a brother who was in the military in Colorado Springs, so I took the children and drove straight here,” she says, recalling a time both frightening beyond belief and yet liberating. “But everyone is different, I tell them when they come to me. I say, ‘I can offer you words. But until you make that step to leave, you will be trapped.’”

Collins arrived in Colorado Springs with three youngsters and a strong will to live and make something of her life. She was appointed clerk of court last year.

It was a long, hard road, but Collins persevered. Her first courthouse job, a lowly entry level one (literally in the courthouse basement), didn’t pay much, so she rose around midnight seven days a week to work three newspaper routes to earn extra money. From there, she moved up, continuing her education, caring for her children, putting ever more distance between the old life and the new.

She became the Arapahoe District court supervisor in 2005, Arapahoe Combined Court supervisor in 2006, then returned, in quiet triumph, to the El Paso County position last fall.

Collins preaches customer service to all who will listen. She’s experienced bad courthouse service and won’t tolerate it on her watch. “I have tried to take all the good qualities in courthouse officials I have worked with, and combine them to make the experience as positive as possible for our customers.”

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Next year, she’ll complete studies for her doctoral degree. Then it’s on to the dissertation. Topic: the reintegration of those convicted of crimes into mainstream society. “I know that people make mistakes in life, but it isn’t fair that, as a society, we continue to judge them for those mistakes the rest of their lives.”