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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Spokane native Debra Stephens to be next state Supreme Court chief justice

In this Jan. 22, 2019 photo, Justice Debra Stephens speaks from the bench during a Washington Supreme Court hearing in Olympia, Wash. On Wednesday, Nov. 6, 2019, Stephens was elected by her fellow members of the state Supreme Court to be the new chief justice. She will replace current Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst, who announced last month she will retire from the high court in January to focus on her health as she fights a third bout of cancer. (Ted S. Warren / AP)

OLYMPIA – Spokane native Debra Stephens was selected by other members of the state Supreme Court to serve as chief justice starting in January.

Stephens, who has served on the court for 11 years, will finish the final year of the term of Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst, who is retiring from the court as she focuses on treating recurring cancer.

Appointed to the court by then-Gov. Christine Gregoire in 2008, Stephens was elected to the position later that year without opposition and re-elected in 2014 with only token opposition from gadfly candidate John “Zamboni” Scannell. She will be up for re-election next year.

Born and raised in the Spokane area, Stephens graduated from West Valley High School and Gonzaga University Law School. She and her husband Craig have two children. She served on the Orchard Prairie School District Board before her appointment to the bench.

She served briefly on the Washington Court of Appeals before being named to the Supreme Court by Gregoire.

During her time on the court, Stephens has been the author of some major opinions, including the 2012 McCleary decision, which ruled the state had not provided adequate money to meet basic education of students in public schools. That ruling prompted years of debate in the Legislature but eventually resulted in rearranging the way the state levies taxes for schools along with new standards and lower teacher-student ratios.

The chief justice is selected to a four-year term by the members, and an announcement from the court said the selection was unanimous. Starting Jan. 6, when she will be sworn in, Stephens will become the court’s chief spokesperson, preside over public hearings and be the co-chair of the state Board for Judicial Administration.

Gov. Jay Inslee will appoint a replacement for Fairhurst to start in January. His office said he is considering a list of 12 possible nominees, including Spokane County Superior Court Judge Michael Price.