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Governor appoints King County justice to state’s top court

OLYMPIA – Gov. Jay Inslee yesterday appointed King County Superior Court Judge Mary Yu to the Washington State Supreme Court.

Yu will fill the seat of Justice Jim Johnson, who retired from the court earlier this week due to health issues.

“Judge Yu has distinguished herself throughout her career as someone of great intellect, dedication and compassion,” Inslee said in announcing the appointment at the Temple of Justice. “She has brought to her work, and to her life, a never-wavering commitment to ensuring justice for everyone.”

Inslee said her appointment is a moment all Washingtonians can be proud of.

Appearing with current members of the Supreme Court, Yu committed herself to working collaboratively with her new colleagues “so the integrity of this institution is only strengthened by our work.”

Yu said, “Trial court judges, at every level of court, are the workhorses of our system of justice.

“I am proud to come from their ranks and will do all that I can to remember that the trial court remains the place where the law is actually applied to everyday life.”

The state’s newest justice will be sworn in later this month. Yu will run for election this fall for the two years remaining in Johnson’s six-year term.

Yu has served 14 years on the King County Superior Court, was a top deputy in the King County Prosecutor’s Office under the late Norm Maleng and began her public service career working for the Archdiocese of Chicago, first as an associate and then director of the Office for the Ministry of Peace and Justice.

“That combination of experience has allowed Judge Yu to see the real-life impacts our legal system has on a diverse population,” Inslee said.

Yu was appointed to King County Superior Court by former Gov. Gary Locke. She subsequently was re-elected to the seat four times.

She has received numerous awards for her work on the court as well as her dedicated commitment to community service. Inslee said she is well known for her diligent and hard work, as well as respect from everyone who comes before her court.

Yu was the first judge in Washington state to marry gay couples, openly supporting gay marriage.

In 2012, she was at the center of a case involving an attorney accused of raping several massage therapists in the Seattle area. Supporters of Danford Grant appealed to her for leniency in the case. His bail was reduced from $3 million to $1 million and the case is still pending trial, set for next Monday.

In 2002, King and Pierce counties wanted an injunction on I-776, Washington state’s voter-approved $30 license tab fee. Yu ruled that the law violated the state’s single-subject rule. Her decision was later overturned by the Washington State Supreme Court.

She also ruled in favor of faculty at the University of Washington who sued the university for refusing to allocate funds for a 2 percent annual merit salary increase.

In 2011, she received the Outstanding Judge of the Year Award from the Washington State Bar Association, with current Supreme Court Justice Steven C. González, for work in researching and exposing racial disparity in Washington state’s criminal justice system. A task force they formed with Seattle University School of Law Professor Robert Chang drew attention to a system where communities of color faced a disproportionality of arrests, the imposition of more severe penalties and higher rates of incarceration.

Yu, age 56, grew up in Chicago as the daughter of two immigrants who met at a factory, her mother from Mexico and her father from China.

The judge will be the first Asian-American and Latina on the state Supreme Court. She will also be the first openly gay member of the state’s highest court.

“I believe it is clear to everyone that Judge Yu has both the qualifications and experience to sit on our Supreme Court. And her personal story adds a unique perspective that is important as our state’s demographics continue to shift,” Inslee said.

Yu earned her Bachelor’s degree in religious studies from Rosary College (Dominican University), a Master’s in theology from Mundelein College of Loyola University and her law degree from the University of Notre Dame Law School.

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