With her right hand in the air, Centre County Court of Common Pleas Judge Pamela Ruest swore to obey the constitutions of the United States and the state of Pennsylvania, and to discharge her duties as the president judge of the 49th Judicial District.
And with an “I do,” Ruest made Centre County history, again.
In a brief ceremony Thursday, Ruest was sworn in by outgoing president Judge Thomas King Kistler as the next president judge of Centre County. In his comments before the swearing in, Kistler discussed Ruest’s initial election in 2007, which made her the first female county judge in the court’s 207-year history.
“Today,” he said, “10 years later, Pamela A. Ruest is about to become the first female president judge of the Centre County Court of Common Pleas.”
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Speaking prior to the ceremony, Ruest said it’s been an honor and a privilege serving the county.
“’I thought it was time we had a female judge 10 years ago,” she said, “and I think it’s time now we have the first female president judge.”
In counties of seven or fewer judges, Kistler explained during the ceremony, the longest serving judge is appointed as president judge when the current president steps down.
Technically, Ruest stepped into the position as president judge on Aug. 16, she revealed, when Kistler officially retired on Aug. 15. However, the court only received the official commissioning statement, signed by Gov. Tom Wolf, on Aug. 31.
During that time, she said, she’s been doing parts of the job, learning from Kistler and taking advantage of his experience.
“It’s wonderful that Judge Kistler resigned and allowed me to become president judge earlier, because this way we have a smooth transition,” she said. “I can rely on his expertise ... to give me advice and guidance.”
She indicated that Kistler would continue serving as a senior judge in the state, but after first taking a year off.
Ruest said some of her first steps as president judge will be to ensure a smooth start for the proposed county drug court, which she said she would be presiding over. Like the existing DUI court, the drug court would focus on drug offenses with a “very intensive team approach” to helping those facing charges rid themselves of their addictions.
The county commissioners have already promised funding for the court, Ruest said, and additional funding has become available through the Administrative Office of Pennsylvania Courts
Board of Commissioners President Michael Pipe, who attended the ceremony, said the board has committed to funding the drug court, but has also applied for a $400,000 grant through the Department of Justice. If the county is awarded the grant, he said, it shouldn’t have to supply the money through general funds.
The board should know the outcome of the grant application in October, he said.
Ruest thanked Kistler for his support and allowing her to learn from his expertise.
“We’re very fortunate in this county that we’ve had a long history of great president judges,” she said, “and I hope to carry on that tradition.”
Attorney Karen Muir, who was in attendance, said she’s known Ruest since the president judge’s time as an attorney and has been before Ruest on the bench several times.
“This is a huge step in the right direction,” Muir said. “The fairness and justice the citizens of Centre County will see in Ruest is what they should expect to see in their president judge.”