YAKIMA – Robert F. Brachtenbach, who served 22 years as a justice on the Washington State Supreme Court, has died at the age of 77.
Brachtenbach died Friday at his home in Cottage Grove, Ore., after battling cancer, said his wife, Marilyn.
Brachtenbach was born in Sydney, Neb. His family moved to Goldendale and then Yakima, where he worked in the fields during harvest beginning at age 10, according to a 1994 profile in the Yakima Herald-Republic.
He dropped out of Yakima High School, now Davis High, in the mid-1940s to work full-time at a grocery store, but then attended Yakima Valley College and the University of Washington, where he earned his law degree.
He opened a law practice in Selah and drafted the documents that helped form the Tree Top Inc. cooperative of fruit growers.
In 1962, Brachtenbach was elected to the state House of Representatives, where he served until 1966.
Then-Gov. Dan Evans appointed him to the Supreme Court in 1972.
One of his most controversial decisions came in the 1980s when the Washington Public Power Supply System was sued by investors for defaulting on $2.25 billion worth of bonds that were sold to fund five nuclear power plants. Only one plant was ever finished, and the default at the time was the largest municipal bond default in the nation’s history.
Brachtenbach empathized with the jilted investors, he told the Herald-Republic, but ruled with the majority that WPPSS had no authority to issue bonds in the first place and therefore could not be forced to honor repayment terms.
Brachtenbach retired in 1994 to his home near Aberdeen and later moved to Oregon.
In addition to his wife, Brachtenbach is survived by five sons, six grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren.
Funeral and memorial plans had not been made Saturday.