LOUISVILLE, KY (WAVE) - For a decade, a judicial assistant has been a popular player at the Hall of Justice with lawyers, court employees and deputies. Now there's a change of the guard that will take some getting used to.
Longtime Judge David Holton knows his way around a courtroom, but as Kentucky's only blind judge, he's needed a little help over the years. Friday a new guy took over that job and soon found out he was following a legal legend.
"I was very loyal to Buddy and he was loyal to me," said Holton, a Jefferson District Court Judge. Known as the king of the courthouse, Buddy, Holton's guide dog provided safety, companionship and the eyes his best friend needed for 10 faithful years.
"You know, everybody knew who Buddy was," Holton recalled, "because he was an institution around here."
Sadly, Holton's office full of Buddy's favorite peppermints is now flooded with sympathy cards. Judge David Bowles was with Holton in November when his beloved Buddy passed away. "It was very very hard on him," Bowles said. "A lot of grief and you know this was his constant companion for a long, long time."
After two months, Holton knew it was time to stop asking friends to help guide him. This day, he would move forward. "I've got butterflies to be honest with you," Holton said.
High noon: The phone call came. It was time to meet the dog that dare follow Buddy.
Nervousness turned into excitement as Holton and Bowles walked outside. "When the van pulled up and the dog got out I realized," Bowles said, "Boy, this is a big day." From behind his cage bars Rocky, another black Labrador Retriever like Buddy, broke out the back gate.
"My heart is beating very fast right now," the Holton explained.
With his trainer from Pilot Dogs of Columbus, Ohio leading, Rocky went right to Holton. With a big lick to Holton's nose we knew right away Rocky was a lover not a fighter.
Pilot Dogs also trained Buddy. And Rocky, like Buddy, quickly showed he can handle the busy city streets. Once inside the courthouse, timing the escalator was a little rocky for the dog, but the elevator and meeting his new colleagues was a breeze.
Before the Judge's first courtroom appearance with his new staffer he took a moment with an old friend. "I had a word with Buddy before I walked out," he shared, "I just wanted to tell him that no dog would replace him, but I knew he wouldn't want me without a dog."
And with that, a deputy made the courtroom announcement , "All rise, the honorable David Holton and Rocky presiding."
"That was cool," the Judge said with a bit of surprise, "It's never been done before."
Holton said he's feeling great so far about Rocky. The trainers from Pilot Dogs will stay in Louisville for a few days to make sure Rocky and the judge have a smooth transition.