Justice Barbara Durham was sworn in Monday as the first female chief justice of the Washington Supreme Court.
“On a personal level, today is one of those moments that I will remember throughout my life,” Durham said in brief remarks after taking the oath.
“But on a broader level, the election of a woman chief justice announces to the citizens of the state that yet another milestone has been achieved.”
In an earlier interview, Durham, 52, said there are so many women now in the judiciary “that it’s no big deal” to be named chief justice.
Also inaugurated Monday were newly elected justices Garry L. Alexander and Phil Talmadge. Alexander, 58, a former chief judge of Division II of the Court of Appeals, and Talmadge, 42, a former state senator from Seattle, were elected to six-year terms in November.
Justice Richard Guy, 52, a former Spokane County Superior Court judge, was inaugurated to a new six-year term on the nine-member high court.
Durham said being named chief justice was just a case of “being in the right place at the right time.”
She was referring to the fact that the chief justice is the senior of the next three justices up for election. Thus the leadership of the court changes every two years.
But the court is assured of four years with a woman as chief. Justice Barbara Madsen will succeed Durham in 1997.
In her remarks, Durham said that every chief justice has brought different perceptions and aspirations.
“Some have chosen to be caretakers, some innovators and others reformers.” Durham made it clear that she intends to be an innovator and reformer.
She said there are many tasks at hand but said she would not discuss details until her state-of-the-judiciary speech before a joint legislative session January 23.
She did outline briefly some of her plans, however.
She noted that decisions in cases often are not handed down until more than a year after oral arguments have been heard by the court.
“It is a denial of justice when litigants wait years for resolution of their appeal,” she said.
She also said she would work to coordinate domestic violence programs among the three branches of government, overhaul the legal rules governing campaigns for judicial office, and study the services being provided by the state’s district and municipal courts.
“Changing long-established habits can be painful and opposition to some proposals is inevitable,” she said. “But to sit back and do nothing in the face of demonstrable need is unacceptable.”
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