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WA Celebrates Legacy of Justice Tom Chambers

PHOTO: As an attorney and, later, a state Supreme Court Justice, Tom Chambers told people that "his head remained attached to his heart" as he made legal decisions. Photo courtesy Washington State Association for Justice.
PHOTO: As an attorney and, later, a state Supreme Court Justice, Tom Chambers told people that "his head remained attached to his heart" as he made legal decisions. Photo courtesy Washington State Association for Justice.
January 9, 2014

SEATTLE - Retired state Supreme Court Justice Tom Chambers, who died of cancer on Dec. 11, is being honored today. From working in his father's gas station in the Yakima Valley to 12 years on the state's highest court (2000-2012), Tom Chambers never forgot his roots and made a difference both on and off the bench, admirers said, as a mentor and a crusader for fairness in the judicial system.

A Seattle attorney and family friend, Lori Haskell, said one decision he was especially proud of spelled out the state's duties to children in foster care.

"They have a responsibility to give them a good life, you know - to not move them constantly, to keep them with the same family, to keep them in the same schools - to have stability," Haskell explained. "He charged the state with doing that."

Haskell noted that this case (Braam v. State of Washington) has had ramifications the state still wrestles with, and it was Chambers who reinforced foster children's constitutional rights.

Chambers had more in common with fellow Justice Mary Fairhurst than their Supreme Court seats: They both had cancer at the same time. Fairhurst said when his treatments wouldn't allow him to be at the court, Chambers sat in online; and when he wasn't able to speak, he wrote his questions and she would read them.

"I think it was just that shared recognition of how important it is that you do your job and you do it well," said Fairhurst. "And what trust the people instill in us, to be sure that justice is administered efficiently and well."

One of Chambers' opinions was cited this week in a New York Times article on the public defender system, which in many states is critically backlogged and underfunded.

Chambers and his wife of 46 years also were major donors to local groups helping lower-income Washingtonians with medical care and housing.

Today's memorial service is expected to be packed with a "who's who" of the Washington political community. It is set for 4 p.m. at the Museum of Flight, at Boeing Field.

More information about Justice Tom Chambers' life and career is online at http://tomchambers.com/.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA