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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, December 13 2013 - Volume 41 Issue 50
State Supreme Court Justice Tom Chambers dies - Voted in favor of marriage equality in Andersen case
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State Supreme Court Justice Tom Chambers dies - Voted in favor of marriage equality in Andersen case

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

Retired Supreme Court Justice Tom Chambers died of cancer on December 11. He was 70.

Chambers was one of four justices who dissented in Andersen v. King County, the 2006 case in which the majority of the state Supreme Court ruled that Gay and Lesbian couples do not have a constitutional right to marry.

In retaliation for his vote for marriage equality, right-wing judge Jeanette Burrage ran against Chambers in his next election, but he trounced her by 17 points.

Most of Chambers' rulings indicated a firm commitment to individual rights.

In Braam v. State, for example, Chambers wrote a landmark opinion for a unanimous court, finding that children in Washington's foster care system have a constitutional right to be free from unreasonable risks of harm. The ruling prompted an overhaul of the state's foster care system.

He was moved, he told Associated Press, by the story of one of the plaintiffs, a girl who graduated from high school with a 3.5 grade-point average despite having been moved 22 times in seven years.

In a 2010 opinion, Chambers ordered a new trial for a Grant County boy convicted at age 12 of sexually molesting a young neighbor. Chambers wrote that the boy's overworked public defender failed to investigate his case.

The boy was eventually exonerated, and the ruling led to new standards for how many cases public defenders can handle.

Chambers was born in a small house behind his father's gas station in the Yakima Valley, and grew up working on cars.

He graduated from Washington State University and from the University of Washington School of Law, then spent three decades in private practice before being elected to the court in 2000. He also served as president of the state bar association.

As a successful trial lawyer Chambers represented clients suing over product and highway safety issues, and he helped win money for nursing home residents who sought to return to their own homes.

'Being a lawyer has afforded me many opportunities to make a difference and I have had a very, very rewarding career,' he wrote. 'I represented real people caught in the grip of the law, usually through no fault of their own.'

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