Willard Bryant Paxton, a fixture in the legal community of Princeton since 1972, passed away Oct. 2, at St. Thomas in Nashville, Tenn., following a short illness.
Paxton graduated from Caldwell County High School and Murray State University, then served as a U.S. Army Ranger while stationed in Germany. Following his service he attended the University of Kentucky Law School, graduating in May 1971.
In an article in The Times Leader Jan. 4, 2020, he said, “I always wanted to be a lawyer.”
Following law school, he clerked for Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Earl T. Osborne in Frankfort. In May of 1972, Paxton made the decision to come back to Princeton to practice law with Ed Johnstone and George Eldred. He practiced law there until May of 1979, when he was elected to the 56th Judicial Circuit as Circuit Judge, serving Caldwell, Lyon, Trigg and Livingston counties. He remained in that role for 12 years.
In 1991, Paxton was appointed administrative law judge for the Kentucky Workers Compensation program, where he handled workers compensation cases. Paxton was quoted as saying, “The administrative law judge job required a lot of traveling and I wanted to stay in Caldwell,” in the above mentioned article. He opened Paxton Law in 1994 in Princeton, and served in the community there until his retirement Dec. 31, 2019.
Speaking with Rick Morgan, he said, “Willard was a trail ride enthusiast until his health prevented him from doing that. He and Judge Bill Williams were close and I know they went on some wagon team rides.” He also said, “Both Willard and his wife Jill were very supportive of the Pennyrile trails.”
G.L. Ovey said, “He was my friend.” “There is a huge void in our legal community with his passing. I met Willard in 1978 when I first passed the bar. he was serving as Assistant Commonwealth Attorney. He served in that position with distinction. In fact, when I would watch him performing as assistant, I learned quite a bit, which would help me when I became Commonwealth Attorney. When I became Commonwealth Attorney, he was sitting Circuit Judge. In the positions we were serving in, we worked closely together ... we worked well together. He was a good Circuit Judge.”
Attorney Serieta Jaggers remembers Paxton fondly.
“Willard and I were good friends before I went to law school in 1985, so he agreed that I could ‘shadow’ him the summer following my first year at Louisville. I learned more that summer than in the entire first year of law school! It was a tremendous advantage to see the law at work rather than just reading about it,” Jaggers recalled. “I did take the ‘shadowing’ part to the extreme when I blindly followed Willard into the men’s restroom at the Livingston County courthouse on one rule day! Fortunately Willard and I noticed the mistake in time!
“Willard will be missed by his many friends and family but I know he is riding into the sunset with Tsar at his side. Rest easy cowboy!”