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New chief justice, first Native American member sworn in

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) – The Washington Supreme Court on Dec. 6 swore in a new chief justice as well as its first Native American justice ever.

The Spokesman-Review reports Justice Debra Stephens became the court’s 57th chief justice. A former Appeals Court judge and adjunct professor of law at Gonzaga University, she called it “the greatest privilege I can imagine.”

Raquel Montoya-Lewis, a former Whatcom County Superior Court judge who is a citizen of the Pueblo Isleta tribe of New Mexico, was sworn in at the same ceremony. Montoya-Lewis is the first Native American to serve on Washington’s highest court, and only the second to serve on any state supreme court in the nation. Stephens called it a historic day.

Stephens was elected chief justice by other members of the court after former Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst announced she was resigning to concentrate on fighting cancer. Gov. Jay Inslee in December named Montoya-Lewis, a Whatcom County Superior Court judge, to fill the open seat on the court.

Inslee said Dec. 6 was a day when “a daughter of Spokane ascends to the chief justice,” and the court gets Lewis-Montoya, a “judicial superstar” who is a good listener, decisive, caring and compassionate.

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