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‘I hope to be able to be half as good as he was,’ incoming judge says of retiring jurist

Amanda S. Petty takes the oath of office as the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit’s newest Superior Court judge Dec. 16, 2016, with her family at her side.
Amanda S. Petty takes the oath of office as the Ocmulgee Judicial Circuit’s newest Superior Court judge Dec. 16, 2016, with her family at her side. Special to The Telegraph

As a law student at Mercer University, Amanda S. Petty worked as a clerk for Ocmulgee Superior Court Judge Hugh Wingfield.

With Wingfield retiring at the end of the year, Petty soon will take over his duties as the eight-county circuit’s newest Superior Court judge.

Voters in Georgia’s May 24 primary election chose Petty to fill Wingfield’s seat over her opponents, Dawn Baskin and Christian G. Henry.

“When you practice, you experience good judges and bad judges and you learn what qualities each of those judges have,” Petty said of her decision to run for the judgeship.

After seeing two female judges — Alison Burleson and Brenda Trammell — appointed by Gov. Nathan Deal to fill vacancies on the Ocmulgee bench in 2014, the 39-year-old Milledgeville native said she felt it was her opportunity to run for election.

“I thought that I could be one of the good judges,” Petty said.

Wingfield was appointed to the bench in 1998 by then-Gov. Zell Miller to fill a newly created judgeship when the Georgia Legislature allocated a fifth seat to the circuit, one of the state’s largest. The Ocmulgee circuit includes Baldwin, Greene, Hancock, Jasper, Jones, Morgan, Putnam and Wilkinson counties.

Wingfield served a stint in the Army during the Vietnam War and worked as a police officer in Orlando, Florida, before going to law school and becoming a Milledgeville attorney.

As a judge, he presided over the death penalty trials for Brandon Rhode and Brian Duane Brookins. Rhode, one of two men sentenced to death for the 1998 slayings of Steven, Kristin and Bryan Moss in Jones County, was executed 2010. Brookins, who was sentenced to die for the 2005 Milledgeville fatal shooting of his wife and stepdaughter, remains on death row.

Wingfield also presided over civil hearings involving Malachi York and the Nuwaubian Nation in Putnam County.

Attempts to reach him this week were unsuccessful.

In preparation for the transition, Petty said Wingfield gave her a bit of advice.

She said Wingfield told her to “listen to the attorneys and let them do their job. ... Be on time and be available to the attorneys. Remember where you came from.”

He went on to say, “It’ll be the best job you’ll have in your life,” Petty said.

Petty, a graduate of John Milledge Academy, Georgia College & State University and Mercer University’s Walter F. George School of Law, left her job as a partner at Milledgeville’s Cansino, Petty and Stribling law firm in preparation for starting work as a judge. At the firm since 2005, she practiced in civil litigation, handling mostly domestic relations cases.

As a judge, her office will be based in Gray. She’ll travel the circuit handling civil and criminal cases.

Looking back on Wingfield’s time on the bench, Petty said, “He will definitely be missed.”

“I hope to be able to be half as good as he was,” she said.

Amy Leigh Womack: 478-744-4398, @awomackmacon

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