Retiring Judge Robert Benson swears in Matthew Opat as the new Third Judicial District judge during a ceremony held at Potter Auditorium in Chatfield last Friday, June 28. Also shown are his wife, Therese, and several other judges who attended the ceremony in support of Opat's new position.  GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
Retiring Judge Robert Benson swears in Matthew Opat as the new Third Judicial District judge during a ceremony held at Potter Auditorium in Chatfield last Friday, June 28. Also shown are his wife, Therese, and several other judges who attended the ceremony in support of Opat's new position. GRETCHEN MENSINK LOVEJOY/BLUFF COUNTRY NEWSPAPERS
Chatfield resident and attorney Matt Opat was sworn in as a Third Judicial District judge last Friday, June 28, at Potter Auditorium in Chatfield.

Chief Judge Jeffrey Thompson introduced the judges attending the momentous occasion and presided over the ceremony, welcoming Fillmore County officials and the Chatfield Fire Department staff.

"I want to welcome everyone to the temporary Fillmore County Courthouse...family members and friends who are here to honor Matthew J. Opat. These are some happy, exciting events," Thompson said. "This is a day of celebration. We welcome a new member to the Third Judicial District bench. Matthew Opat has a long and distinguished legal career."

Assistant Chief Judge Bob Birnbaum presented Opat with a gift on behalf of the Third Judicial District. "It's an honor and a pleasure to welcome you to the Third Judicial District bench, and a pleasure to present you with this gift, a gavel. It's not used very often, but it's a symbol of the office, of the responsibility you hold."

Opat then took the oath of office, swearing that he will uphold the Constitution and serve the United States.

"This is an overwhelming experience," Opat told the audience. "When I was notified that I was chosen as the next Third Judicial District judge on May 2, I was excited until the middle of the afternoon when I realized that I needed to close my law office and find a place to hold my investiture ceremony. I left my office, and I was walking down the street when I saw a light pole that said 'Chatfield, Home of the Boy Scouts,' and another that said that Chatfield is named for Judge Andrew Chatfield. I heard a voice that said, 'If you have it here, they will come.' I looked around and saw nobody. And I heard it again: 'If you have it here, they will come.' That happens to us Iowa people," he joked, referring to the "If you build it" dream in the Iowa-based movie, "Field of Dreams." Opat spoke of how Potter Auditorium has become an important venue since he became a part of the Chatfield Center for the Arts' renovation force.

He then thanked retired Judge Robert Benson for selecting him as a county attorney. "I get the privilege of following you onto the bench as you retire. I wish you well. You leave me one of the most technologically advanced courtrooms in the state of Minnesota," Opat said. "My 5-year-old granddaughter has to show me how to use my phone - Judge Benson, it's an honor to take over the Starship Enterprise."

Opat also extended his appreciation to fellow Chatfield residents and judges Christina Stevens and Joseph Chase. Chase being a Chatfield native, his mother Dorothy marked her high school graduation in Potter Auditorium as part of the first class to do so in 1936.

Opat also thanked his family, including his wife, Therese, his sons, Mike and Steven, his daughter, Kristin, and his grandchildren - particularly his granddaughters, who advise him about what's best to wear to work. Finally, he thanked his mother, Delores, his brothers and sisters, aunts and uncles, people who have shown him support and the "value of hard work."

The new judge related that a judicial selection committee and Gov. Mark Dayton pored over candidates' resumes and applications and he felt honored to be the one chosen for the position in the Third District court.

He also pointed out that his clients have taught him more than his formal law education prepared him for, but that it was good to learn something new from them each day as they sought his advice. He added that his secretaries who have served at the front desk of Opat Law over the past 35 years have helped make the job of advising clients possible.

Opat said the Fillmore County Bar Association and Chatfield's city officials were also instrumental in his career development and educational experiences.

"I've taken a look around at the judges behind me...as part of the Jaycees, our mission statement was 'Service to humanity is the best work of life.' I've had many friends and clients over the years, and I want them to know: I lost my hair while making decisions so you didn't have to. But taking a look at Joe Chase, I think that it's kind of late for him."

Opat's law office has been sold to Scott Springer and Jennifer Gumbel of Springer & Gumbel of Preston, and operations will continue as Opat makes a transition to his seat on the Third Judicial District's bench in Fillmore County.