When it came to choosing a replacement for the outgoing first justice of the Edgartown district court, the options were limited.

After all, the Hon. J. Thomas Kirkman joked this week during a crowded ceremony at the Main street courthouse, there was only one other justice who was also a Maryland native.

District court chief justice Paul C. Dawley swears in Judge Kirkman as Hon. Kathryn E. Hand looks on. — Mark Lovewell

“He occupied this seat as an outsider and he became part of the community,” Judge Kirkman said about his predecessor, the Hon. H. Gregory Williams. “There was only one more of us in the district court and that was me.”

The official passing of the gavel took place Thursday when Judge Kirkman was sworn in as first justice in the Edgartown courtroom which will become his primary domain.

In a series of speeches, court officials welcomed the judge to his new role while also saluting Judge Williams, who retired in March after 10 years on the job.

“He became a friend to us all and kept us entertained with his knowledge of literature and rock and roll trivia,” said clerk magistrate Liza Williamson, who added that Judge Williams was a gentleman and scholar with a sense of humor.

“He meted out justice with a human hand,” she said.

The county’s new first justice, Judge Kirkman, is an Air Force veteran who served as assistant district attorney in the Cape and Islands district attorney’s office for 16 years before becoming a judge. Robed in black and wearing a blue bow tie and dark-rimmed spectacles, Mr. Kirkman addressed the audience with a broad smile.

Clerk magistrate Liza Williamson recognized the Edgartown district court staff. — Mark Lovewell

“I don’t know if I just attended a swearing-in or a celebration of my life,” he said after taking the oaths.

When he got the job six weeks ago, Judge Kirkman said he was eager to serve Dukes County, where he has often presided before.

“I had really come to love this community and the people in this court,” he said.

Of his judicial philosophy, he said his job was to “unstick” people from the circumstances that bring them to court.

“I see myself as serving a community and serving individuals,” he said.

A graduate of the Rutgers Law School, Judge Kirkman began his legal career representing those who couldn’t afford legal services.

During his tenure at the Cape and Island district attorney’s office, he directed the domestic violence prosecution unit.

Clerk of courts Joseph E. Sollitto Jr., attorney Ronald H. Rappaport, and attorney Charles A. Morano. — Mark Lovewell

Judge Kirkman has two adult children: a daughter in Colorado and a son in Japan. His wife, Gayle, sat in the court behind a row of judges who traveled to the Island for the ceremony.

During the ceremony, some of the other district court judges received accolades, including district court chief justice Paul C. Dawley and the Hon. Kathryn E. Hand. In addition, Ms. Williamson recognized the Edgartown district court staff, whom she said made it the “nicest, kindest, most empathetic clerk’s office in the state.”

Ms. Williamson, who was herself recognized for her advocacy on behalf of the court, said she had pushed hard for Judge Kirkman’s appointment.

“Without fail, he treats people with dignity and respect,” she said.

A reception followed at Alchemy, the bar and restaurant next door to the courthouse.