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With a little added humor, a new face took the bench as Charles County’s newest associate judge of the circuit court Friday afternoon.

Hayward James “Jay” West is the first African-American appointee to the position in county history. Gov. Martin O’Malley (D) announced West’s appointment, along with that of newly minted District Court Judge Andrea R.S. Watkins, in late February.

Local officials and West’s family and friends gathered at the county government building in La Plata to watch West’s mother Carolyn put the robe on her son for the first time after he took the oath of office, which Deputy Clerk of the Circuit Court Joyce Tippett administered in place of Clerk of the Circuit Court Sharon “Sherri” Hancock (D).

Before his appointment to the bench, West worked with Waldorf law firm Alpert Schreyer. One of the partners, Michael Schreyer, spoke of West’s community involvement and other assets.

“One of the challenges I’ll face is finding someone to fill the shoes that [West] has [filled] for the last eight years,” Schreyer said. “He’s my colleague, my friend and in many ways a family member. I’m here today to wish him a great adventure. ... I know that Jay West will always work for the people and with the people involved in these problems. He will not just look at the law. He will not just look at his watch. ... He will always serve the people of the courtroom.”

Sgt. Maj. Bertram Vaughn, one of West’s colleagues during his tenure as a paratrooper in the U.S. Army, had similarly glowing things to say about West.

“The beginning of the [Army noncommissioned officer’s] creed says ‘No one is more professional than I,’ and Jay lives up to those words daily in his performance,” Vaughn said. “Jay is always giving his all, and I have no doubt he will continue to be all he can.”

District Court Judge W. Louis Hennessy recalled meeting West while he was enrolled in law school and West was working his way toward his undergraduate degree. The two were fast friends, he said.

“I don’t know who’s happier: Jay for making judge or me for seeing it,” Hennessy said. “I think the world of Jay. ... He dedicates his time to the community. He teaches little guys, 5 or 6 years old, how to wrestle ... and you see them come off the mat heads down and dragging after they lose, and he tells them how they can do better. ... It’s remarkable. Charles County and the state of Maryland are the big winners on Jay’s big day.”

“I found out on a Sunday, and by Wednesday I had about 1,200 text messages,” West said of learning he’d received the judicial spot. In his address to the crowd, West opted out of a traditional approach and instead displayed a slideshow behind him filled with joke pictures he’d “obtained” of colleagues of his, along with some more serious ones, including a shot from his grandmother’s birthday party and ending with a picture of his mother.

West took the time to individually acknowledge some of the people who had helped him along coming up.

“What I want to do is come to work every day, do my best, try and get better and be on time,” West said. “I’m taking the bench and taking all of you with me.”

West will be up for election in November to officially retain his seat. Circuit Judge Jerome R. Spencer also is running to retain his seat, and newcomer Thomas R. Simpson, a local attorney, is running, as well.

lrenner@somdnews.com