Whatcom County’s first Native American judge to be sworn in Friday

Raquel Montoya-Lewis, 46, will be sworn in on Friday, Jan. 16, as the first Native American judge in Whatcom County Superior Court.

Gov. Jay Inslee plans to attend the ceremony, open to the public, at 3:30 p.m. in County Council chambers at the courthouse, 311 Grand Ave. Inslee’s office announced his appointment of Montoya-Lewis on Dec. 15.

Montoya-Lewis said by phone on Monday, Jan. 12, that she was presently wrapping up her work as chief judge for the Nooksack Indian Tribe.

Her first day on the job at the county courthouse will be Tuesday, Jan. 20, Montoya-Lewis said — although she doesn’t have any cases on her calendar until Jan. 23.

To take on the responsibilities of superior court judge, Montoya-Lewis will resign 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.

The swearing-in will be performed by Bobbe Bridge, a retired state Supreme Court justice and a longtime mentor of Montoya-Lewis.

Montoya-Lewis said she was “very honored” the governor would witness her swearing-in. A governor’s spokeswoman said Inslee attends such events occasionally.

“The governor does like to attend swearing-in ceremonies when possible, particularly if it’s a jurisdiction he hasn’t had an opportunity to visit yet. He’s attended a half dozen or so,” said Jaime Smith, Inslee’s media relations director.

Inslee’s most recent public appearance in Bellingham was on July 31, when he was briefed on efforts to clean up the waterfront. The governor attended a fundraiser that evening for state Senate candidate Seth Fleetwood.