J. Wade Padgett first put on a judge's robe more than 14 years ago as an associate magistrate in Columbia County.
On Wednesday, he'll don a Superior Court judge's robe, and it might be the one he retires in.
"It may very well be the last step," said Padgett, Columbia County's chief magistrate, who said his childhood dream was to become a judge.
Gov. Sonny Perdue will administer the oath of office to Padgett as he becomes the Augusta Judicial Circuit's newest Superior Court judge.
"It is so exciting," said Padgett, who was appointed by Perdue in September to replace retiring Judge Duncan Wheale. "That is a gift to be able to do what you always thought you wanted to do."
Wheale, who announced his retirement last year, has moved to Charleston where he plans to work at The Citadel, his alma mater.
The judges in the circuit preside over domestic, civil and criminal cases in Columbia, Richmond and Burke counties.
Padgett, 43, was an assistant district attorney to former district attorneys Mike Eubanks and Danny Craig. He served under former Chief Magistrate David Huguenin and was elected to succeed Huguenin in 2004.
"I think Wade is going to do a fantastic job," District Attorney Ashley Wright said.
"He has good experience in both civil and criminal law. He's been on both sides of the fight. And it gives him a unique perspective."
Padgett presided over his last criminal session in Magistrate Court on Jan. 22, when he sent someone to jail for a probation violation, and took the magistrate bench for the last time Thursday to hear civil matters.
Associate Magistrate Bobby Christine, whom Padgett appointed on his first day as chief magistrate, called Padgett a "straight arrow" who allows his belief in public service to guide everything he does.
"He has really taken what was a very good office and made it a very, very professional office," said Christine. "It is bittersweet to see him move on, but we all knew he was destined for this. Wade is a judge through and through. He is the quality of person who needs to be on the bench."
Padgett said he's excited about the transition, but said his time in Magistrate Court has been a great learning experience and he doesn't look forward to leaving the office and its staff.
"It is really strange because the office here is just the way I want it," Padgett said. "I think it works very well."
He said he'll continue to present Teenage Years 101, a legal seminar he started for parents and teens, and hopes his successor as chief magistrate will continue to hold night court sessions. Once Padgett takes his seat on Superior Court, those judges will choose the county's new chief magistrate.
Padgett will be assigned to domestic cases, as is customary with new judges.
As a Superior Court judge, Padgett can no longer practice law and has pulled out of the private practice he shared with his wife, Alice.
Padgett said he has one goal: to be consistent.
"We are blessed to have him. ... The whole community is benefiting by us sharing him," Christine said, adding that Padgett gave him one directive when he robed Christine as associate magistrate. "All he ever said was do justice. That, quite frankly, is the stick by which all judges should be measured."
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