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On the Washington State Supreme Court, They Call Barbara Madsen ‘Chief’

The three members of the Washington State Supreme Court who are Gonzaga University alumnae: (from left) Justice Mary E. Fairhurst, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, and Justice Debra L. Stephens. Photo by Peter Tormey.

The three members of the Washington State Supreme Court who are Gonzaga University alumnae: (from left) Justice Mary E. Fairhurst, Chief Justice Barbara Madsen, and Justice Debra L. Stephens. Photo by Peter Tormey.

Editor’s Note: This is the first story in a three-part series about the three Gonzaga University alumnae serving on the Washington State Supreme Court. Stories about Justices Mary E. Fairhurst and Debra L. Stephens will follow in the next two issues of @Gonzaga.

By Peter Tormey
SPOKANE, Wash. – When the Washington State Supreme Court came to campus last month to hear cases and talk with students, three of the nine justices felt right at home, and for good reason: All three are Gonzaga University alumnae. We asked them about life and the law.

Chief Justice Barbara A. Madsen, a 1977 Gonzaga Law alumna, earned a bachelor’s degree at University of Washington before attending Gonzaga. She served in the Law Clinic and volunteered with Spokane Legal Services. As chief, Madsen is the Court’s spokesperson, presides over public hearings and is administrative head of the state’s trial and appellate court system.

With many fond memories of Gonzaga, Madsen said, half-jokingly, her one regret was not getting to learn in the new Law School Building, built after she graduated. Joking aside, Chief Justice Madsen said “commitment” describes the Gonzaga Law School.

“Commitment, that really was at the heart of the message at Gonzaga Law School. Commitment to your community, the commitment to the legal process and using it for the betterment of the people you live around and live with,” Madsen said. “I think that’s a huge message that I internalized from the days I was at Gonzaga. It’s put me in a good position for my life because I think the most satisfaction I get from the things that I do in my life have to do with the things I do for others. Where I can make a difference, that’s where I get the most sense of happiness and satisfaction.”

Her advice for those contemplating law school? Find a mentor, get excellent grades, and write as much as possible.

“Even before you make the decision to go into law, someone that can take you aside and tell you what it would be like to be in the practice,” she said. “Just so you’re sure because often times, particularly we’ve noticed this with a lot of women that go into the law, it’s not quite what they had thought.”

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