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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Eye On Olympia

Gregoire taps Spokanite (yes, that’s the term) for state’s highest court…

The newest state Supreme Court justice is a judge from Spokane.

This morning at the state's Temple of Justice in Olympia, Gov. Chris Gregoire said she's appointing appeals court judge Debra L. Stephens to replace retiring justice Bobbe Bridge. Stephens is the first native Eastern Washington female lawyer to serve on the high court.

"Judge Stephens is a legal scholar who understands the importance of making the law relevant and meaningful to real people with real problems," the governor said in a statement this morning. She praised Stephens' experience, temperament and commitment.

Stephens, at 42, is no stranger to the high-ceilinged courtroom where she'll soon sit as one of the nine justices. As a lawyer specializing in appellate cases, she argued more than 100 cases before the court.

Another key factor, Gregoire said, were Stephens' Eastern Washington roots. The last Spokane native on the state Supreme Court was Chief Justice Richard Guy, who retired in 2000.

Stephens was appointed to the Division III Court of Appeals in April, becoming just the second woman ever to join that division of the court. She's a 1993 Gonzaga Law School grad.

Earl Martin, dean of the university's law school, said in a statement that she "has always exemplified the best of the profession."

"Additionally, consistent with the Gonzaga spirit, Judge Stephens is a dedicated public servant who is committed to the pursuit of social justice," Martin said.

Stephens is married to Craig Stephens. The couple has two children, Lindsey and Bob.

Locally, Stephens served more than a decade as a school board member for the Orchard Prairie School District and is a board member of the Spokane Valley Rotary Club. She has been an elder, deacon and Sunday school teacher at Millwood Community Presbyterian Church.

Her father is Jim Williams, a well-known local businessman, founding member of the public facilities district board that planned and built Spokane's Veterans Memorial Arena, and longtime West Valley School Board member. Williams ran unsuccessfully for a statehouse seat in 1998, losing the Republican primary to Rep. Lynn Schindler, R-Otis Orchards, who still holds the seat.

Short takes and breaking news from the Washington Legislature and the state capital.