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Retired Justice James Dolliver dies at 80

OLYMPIA – Retired state Supreme Court Justice James Morgan Dolliver died at his home here Wednesday after a period of ill health, the court announced. He was 80.

“He will be missed by everyone in the legal community,” Chief Justice Gerry Alexander said.

In the state’s 1999 oral history of Dolliver, Alexander said that during the four years they served together, Dolliver was the court’s “inspirational leader … its conscience and our institutional memory about the court’s hallowed traditions.”

Ralph Munro, secretary of state when the history was prepared, called Dolliver “a shining star” in the foreword, “an exemplary public servant … a man to look up to.”

Dolliver was appointed to the state’s highest court in 1976 by Republican Gov. Dan Evans, whom he had served as chief of staff after managing his initial 1964 election campaign.

Dolliver was re-elected to the bench three times and served on the court for a total of 23 years. As chief justice from 1985-87, he wrote majority opinions on such critical issues as capital punishment.

In January 1993, Dolliver was debilitated by a stroke. He returned to the court five months later after rehabilitation that restored his ability to speak, walk and even swallow. He used a wheelchair the rest of his life.

Olympia’s historic Federal Building is named for him.

Dolliver grew up in Fort Dodge, Iowa, and joined the Navy as an aviation cadet after high school, duty that included air and sea rescue-patrol assignments with the U.S. Coast Guard.

After his military service, Dolliver attended Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania, where he met his wife, Barbara. Before graduating in 1949, he worked summers as a park ranger in Olympic National Park.

Dolliver earned his law degree at the University of Washington in 1952 and went into private practice in Port Angeles and later in Everett. Active in Republican Party politics, he went to Washington, D.C., in 1953 as administrative assistant to U.S. Rep. Jack Westland.

He served as Evans’ chief of staff from 1965 to 1976.

Dolliver is survived by his wife, Barbara, six children and three grandchildren. Funeral plans were pending.

 

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