Whatcom County judge to interview for the vacant seat on the state Supreme Court

Whatcom County Superior Court Judge Raquel Montoya-Lewis is among a dozen applicants to replace Justice Mary Fairhurst on the Washington State Supreme Court, according to a spokesperson the Office of Governor.

“Over the next few weeks, the governor’s legal counsel and deputy legal counsel will be interviewing each of them,” Acting Communications Director from the Office of the Governor Tara Lee told The Bellingham Herald. “The governor will make the final decision, and the announcement will likely be made the first week of December in Olympia.”

Supreme Court Chief Justice Fairhurst announced her plans to retire Oct. 4 as she battles cancer for the third time.

On Wednesday, Nov. 6, Justice Debra Stephens was elected by her fellow members of the State Supreme Court to be chief justice next year. Stephens, 54, will serve the final year of Fairhurst’s term as chief justice.

The next full, four-year term election for chief justice will occur in November 2020.

According to a list provided by Lee, Montoya-Lewis is one of 12 applicants to fill the vacancy created by Fairhurst’s retirement. All applicants on the list are self-nominated, Lee told The Herald.

Joining Montoya-Lewis are Laura Anglin of Olympia, James Davenport of Buena, Judge Alex Ekstrom of Kennewick, Judge George Fearing of Richland, Jack Fiander of Yakima, Mary Gaston of Seattle, Judge Millie Judge of Everett, Jodi McDougall of Seattle, Patrick Palace of Tacoma, Judge Michael Price of Spokane, and Judge G. Helen Whitener of Tacoma.

Montoya-Lewis was sworn in Jan. 16, 2015, as the first Native American judge on the Whatcom County Superior Court. She was appointed by Gov. Jay Inslee after the state Legislature approved a fourth Superior Court judge for the county in 2013.

Before that, Montoya-Lewis served as an associate professor at Western Washington University’s Fairhaven College and had served as a judge for 16 years, including as chief judge for the Lummi Nation from 2008-11. Montoya-Lewis graduated from law school at the University of Washington in Seattle in 1995.

Montoya-Lewis told The Herald earlier this year that she shares her family’s story when she teaches classes in unconscious or implicit bias to judges, court employees and others throughout Washington state, including the Judicial College that all new judges must attend.

David Rasbach joined The Bellingham Herald in 2005 and now covers breaking news. He has been an editor and writer in several western states since 1994.