Foster Care, Public Defense Among Justice Chambers' Legacies

Dec 12, 2013

Retired Washington Supreme Court Justice Tom Chambers died late Wednesday at the age of 70.

In 12 years on the state's high court, the former justice authored two ground breaking opinions: one on foster care, the other on indigent defense.

In 2003, Chambers wrote the unanimous majority opinion in a case that put a spotlight on how often foster children in Washington bounce from home to home.

In 2010, Chambers was again the lead author in a case that Bob Boruchowitz at Seattle University School of Law calls one of the most important rulings on indigent defense in the country in the last decade.

“It’s had a tremendous impact on everyone across the state understanding that to have effective representation you’ve got to have limited caseload and you’ve got to do some work, you’ve got to establish a relationship with the client and you’ve got to test the government’s case,” says Boruchowitz.

In fact following that decision, the Washington Supreme Court took the unusual step of issuing separate guidelines for public defenders, including caseload limits.

Chambers later said of that case: “We placed the first nails in the coffin of the meet ‘em, greet ‘em, and plead ‘em system in Washington.”