Will Yu make history? — She could be first Asian American on state’s highest court

By Jason Cruz
Northwest Asian Weekly

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King County Superior Court Judge Mary Yu

King County Superior Court Judge Mary Yu will make history if she’s successful in her bid for an open seat on the Washington State Supreme Court.

The opening on the state’s highest court comes as a result of Justice Jim Johnson retiring on April 30. Judge Yu is one of 20 applicants submitted to Gov. Jay Inslee, who will make the appointment this month. If chosen, Yu will become Washington’s first Asian American Washington State Supreme Court Justice.

The opening on the nine-judge panel will be through the end of the year. The seat will be up for election this coming November. Judge Yu stated that if she is appointed, she would run a competitive statewide campaign to retain the opportunity to serve on the court in Olympia.

Judge Yu was born and raised in Chicago. Her mother is Mexican and her father is Chinese. Both parents were first-generation immigrants. Judge Yu attended Dominican University and earned a degree in theology. She went on to earn a graduate degree in theology from Mundelein of Loyola University. After working for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese, Judge Yu went on to law school at Notre Dame and graduated with honors in 1993.

Judge Yu moved to Seattle where she began in the civil division of the King County Prosecutor’s Office and worked her way through the ranks to become the deputy chief of staff to then King County Prosecuting Attorney Norm Maleng in 1999. She became known as one of the most influential attorneys at the Prosecutor’s Office. In 2000, Washington Gov. Gary Locke appointed Judge Yu to be a King County Superior Court Judge.

This is not the first time that Judge Yu has been considered to serve on the state Supreme Court. In 2007, she was one of the names thought to fill the vacancy of retiring Justice Bobby Bridge. She hopes that this year she will be appointed.

“I can’t think of anyone more deserving of appointment and election to the Washington Supreme Court than Judge Yu,” said fellow King County Superior Court Judge Dean S. Lum. “Gov. Inslee has an opportunity to make history for not only the fast-growing API community, but all Washingtonians.”

“She is a community leader that is active and engaged,” said former City of Seattle Councilwoman Martha Choe.

“She is highly regarded by the attorneys in her courtroom, as well as her peers. She is also highly rated by bar associations and kept in high regard by the Washington State Bar Association.”

“I have applied for the Supreme Court position because as a trial court judge with 14 years of experience, I think I can make a positive contribution to the Court and its decision-making process,” said Judge Yu in an e-mail to the Northwest Asian Weekly. “I understand the need for clarity, consistency, and thoughtful application of the law from our highest appellate court.”

Judge Yu touts her record of presiding over hundreds of civil and criminal trials, as well as being involved with issues involving the administration of justice. She is perennially one of the top judges on the bench in King County. In 2011, she received the “Outstanding Judge of the Year” from the Washington State Bar Association.

The award is presented for outstanding service to the bench and for special contribution to the legal profession.

“I will bring a trial court perspective and my many years of experience of applying the rule of law at the local level,” she said. “I will approach cases with an eye towards rendering decisions that can be understood, so that the rule of law can be easily applied at the trial court level.”

Judge Yu sees issues on the horizon that may affect the Asian Pacific Islander community. “The Court will continue to face the challenges involved with adequate court funding and providing meaningful access to all people. The challenge of providing services that facilitates access, such as interpreters or resources for those who cannot afford to hire an attorney, are issues that should be of interest to the API community.”

Judge Yu is also known for being the first official to legally marry a same-sex couple in the state of Washington.

“Once the right to marry became legal in Washington state for all couples, I felt no one should have to wait a minute longer and so I made myself available to anyone who wanted to get married,” recalled Judge Yu. “We were surprised at the enthusiasm and presided over marriages throughout the night. It was a very exciting moment for the couples.”

When Judge Yu is not on the bench, she enjoys reading, running, eating good food, and walking her neighbor’s dog.

Judge Yu has a very active and informative Facebook page. (end)

Jason Cruz can be reached at info@nwasianweekly.com.

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