Whatcom County gained a fourth Superior Court judge Friday, Jan. 16, when a former Nooksack tribal judge was sworn into office.
Raquel Montoya-Lewis, 46, is also the first Native American judge in Whatcom County Superior Court. She previously worked as chief judge for the Nooksack Indian Tribe.
Gov. Jay Inslee and other dignitaries attended the ceremony in County Council chambers at the courthouse, 311 Grand Ave. The swearing-in was performed by Bobbe Bridge, a retired state Supreme Court justice and a longtime mentor of Montoya-Lewis.
"We spend a lot of time vetting the people we choose," Inslee said before the swearing-in ceremony. "I can tell you that I've got a lot of great selections, but none greater than soon-to-be Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis."
Her first day on the job at the county courthouse will be Tuesday, Jan. 20 — although she doesn’t have any cases on her calendar until Jan. 23, Montoya-Lewis said.
To take on the responsibilities of superior court judge, Montoya-Lewis resigned as associate professor at Western Washington University’s Fairhaven College, effective Thursday, Jan. 15, Montoya-Lewis said. She taught courses on the U.S. legal system, and cultural and gender identity, according to the WWU website.
Montoya-Lewis graduated from law school at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1995 and has served as a judge for 16 years, including as chief judge of Lummi Nation from 2008-11.
The judge is from two Indian tribes in New Mexico: Pueblo of Isleta and Pueblo of Laguna.
A fourth Whatcom County Superior Court judge was approved by the state Legislature in 2013. The state and county each pay half the salary of superior court judges, which is $156,363. The state pays for benefits, and the county pays all associated expenses, including a recent renovation of the courthouse.
Montoya-Lewis’ seat on the superior court bench will be up for election in 2015 and again in 2016, to put it in line with other superior court positions in the county.