Willard Paxton, a fixture in the Princeton legal community since 1972, hung up his hat and retired Dec. 31.

"I always wanted to be a lawyer," said Paxton, 76, a Princeton native. "After I got out of law school, I was a clerk for Kentucky Supreme Court Justice Earl T. Osborne in Frankfort."

"During my time there I did a lot of researching and writing, which was a good experience."

After graduating from Caldwell County High School and Murray State University, Paxton attended University of Kentucky Law School. Upon graduating in May 1971, he worked with Justice Osborne.

Paxton made the decision to come back to Princeton in May 1972 and began practicing law with Ed Johnstone and George Eldred.

"I had a good relationship with Judge Johnstone and he wanted me to come back so I did," Paxton said. "It was great working with him and George Eldred -- he was a fine person."

"I was happy to come back to my hometown."

Paxton served the legal community with Johnstone and Eldred until his election to the 56th Judicial Circuit as circuit judge in 1979. He served Caldwell, Lyon, Trigg and Livingston counties for 12 years in the role.

"We dealt with felony cases for the most part and all civil cases involving over $5,000," Paxton said.

In 1991, Judge Paxton was appointed administrative law judge for the Kentucky Workers Compensation program, handling workers' compensation cases.

While he enjoyed the job, he decided to return to private practice.

"The administrative law judge job required a lot of traveling and I wanted to stay in Caldwell," Paxton said.

He opened Paxton Law in 1994 in Princeton and has represented clients for the past 25 years.

"The experience of opening my own practice went well," Paxton said. "I just took cases that came through the door."

He said an important moment of his career was when he defended a juvenile charged with burglary.

"I thought that he had been set up by the sheriff at the time," Paxton said. "I defended him on the ground of mental illness and the jury acquitted him."

He said McKinnley Morgan, an attorney in London, Kentucky, will be filling his spot at Paxton Law. He and Morgan graduated law school together.

"I got into workers compensation with coal miners and it grew exponentially," Paxton said.

"All McKinnley had ever done was represent coal miners so he and I associated together."

"We've handled about 700 coal miner cases in the last two years. … McKinnley Morgan will continue to represent coal miners once he takes over the office."

Paxton plans to enjoy retirement by doing what he loves most: riding an Arabian horse, tending to his farm with his wife, Jill, and spending time with his family.