By Ian Ferguson
When she begins her term on the Whatcom County Superior Court on January 20, Raquel Montoya-Lewis will be the county’s first Native American superior court judge and the only Native American superior court judge in Washington state.
Governor Jay Inslee announced his appointment of Montoya-Lewis on December 15.
“Raquel’s 15 years of experience as a judge will be well appreciated on the superior court,” Inslee said in a statement. “She is wise and has a strong commitment to service and to promoting justice. I know she will serve the community and the court exceptionally well.”
Montoya-Lewis will fill the fourth seat of the Whatcom County Superior Court, a seat created by a state bill passed in 2013 to help manage the court’s backlog of cases. The other three superior court judges are Ira Uhrig, Deborra Garrett and Charles Snyder.
Superior court judges in Washington are elected to serve four-year terms, but vacancies between elections are filled by appointment of the governor. The current term ends in 2017.
Currently, Montoya-Lewis, 46, is chief judge for the Nooksack and Upper Skagit tribes, and an associate professor at Western Washington University, where she teaches courses on law, cultural identity and gender identity.
In 2011 she was named a member of the Federal Advisory Committee on Juvenile Justice, a 14-member committee that advises the president and Congress on matters of juvenile justice. She is also an appellate court judge for the Nisqually Tribal Court of Appeals and the Northwest Intertribal Court System.
With 16 years of experience as a judge, Montoya-Lewis said she is prepared to start chipping away at the backlog of cases awaiting trial in Whatcom County Superior Court.
“I’ve worked in a number of courts in different systems, and that broad perspective will help me handle a variety of cases,” Montoya-Lewis said. “I think I’ll be able to take cases right away and hit the ground running.”
Montoya-Lewis is from the Pueblo of Laguna and Pueblo of Isleta tribes in New Mexico.
“I think it’s important that judicial institutions reflect the community they serve, and my coming on board will help the superior court better reflect the population of Whatcom County,” Montoya-Lewis said.
Prior to becoming a judge and professor, Montoya-Lewis was a judicial law clerk for Justice Pamela B. Minzer in New Mexico, practiced law and taught at the University of New Mexico School of Law. She holds a law degree and a Master of Social Work degree from the University of Washington. She and her husband Colin Montoya-Lewis have two children.
Montoya-Lewis will be sworn in as Whatcom County Superior Court Judge on Friday, January 16 at 3:30 p.m. in the council chambers of the Whatcom County courthouse. Governor Inslee will be in attendance.
“I’m very excited and really looking forward to the challenge,” Montoya-Lewis said.