Gov. Jay Inslee appointed King County Superior Court Judge Mary Yu to the Washington State Supreme Court yesterday. Yu will fill the seat of Justice Jim Johnson who retired from the court earlier this week due to health issues.

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.

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.

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

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

“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 reelected to the seat four times.

In 2011, Yu 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 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.

“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.

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