Columbia County Associate Probate Judge Alice Padgett was sworn in Tuesday morning as interim judge.
Longtime Probate Judge Pat Hardaway died Friday. Clerk of Superior Court Cindy Mason, to whom the position fell by state law, said she declined the post Monday evening after speaking to Padgett.
"I think I've got enough to do, and Alice does such a superb job," Mason said.
When Mason declined the position, the choice to fill it went to Superior Court Chief Judge Carlisle Overstreet, who appointed and swore in Padgett at a ceremony at Columbia County Probate Court in Evans.
"This is kind of a mixed occasion in that the community has lost a true and trusted friend in Pat Hardaway," Overstreet said. "But it is the confidence that Pat Hardaway had in Alice Padgett that helped me make this decision to appoint Alice Padgett as probate judge."
Padgett, a native of Columbia County and a 1983 Evans High School graduate, has practiced law, specializing in adoptions, since 1990. She also is a former Traffic Court public defender. Her husband is Superior Court Judge J. Wade Padgett.
Hardaway appointed Alice Padgett as associate probate judge in January 2010.
"I've got some big shoes to fill, and it's going to be really hard to fill them," Padgett said as Probate Court staffers looked on, some teary-eyed.
"But I think between the staff and I, we can keep this court running, serving the residents of Columbia County and just do the best we can, and we'll get through this together."
In her first act as probate judge, Padgett appointed and swore in lawyer Mark Cleary as associate probate judge.
"I think he'll do a great job," Padgett said. "I think he has a great attitude and a great temperament to help in this court."
As interim probate judge, Padgett has 10 days to call for a special election to fill Hardaway's unexpired term, which runs until Dec. 31, 2012. State law provides two available dates for special elections this year: Sept. 20 and Nov. 8.
Padgett said she is discussing the issue with county Board of Elections Executive Director Debbie Marshall and that no decisions have been made.