On Tom Chambers by Laura Anglin

(Laura Anglin was one of the speakers at Tom’s funeral. This is what she said). 

I’m Laura Anglin.  Tom Chambers hired me as his law clerk a few days after he was elected to the state supreme court thirteen years ago.   He’s been one of the gravitational centers of my life ever since.  In the beginning, Tom told me: “the law’s not final until it’s right.”  Some reasonable jurists differed with him on that, but he never surrendered.

When Tom was in law school, he helped the ACLU in a suit against Washington counties that were using impossible literacy tests to keep certain people from registering to vote.  He helped draft the legal arguments; he was there when the local federal judges turned them down; he was in the car on the dusty road up to Justice William O. Douglas’s Yakima summer home in a last ditch attempt to get an emergency writ directing those judges to do something. The justice declined.  I’m told that’s one of the few cases Tom ever lost.

Thirty five years later, I got to tell him that as a Supreme Court Justice, he had the power to issues writs of habeas corpus all by himself.  When I told him that, he shot back, “Great! Draw one up for Justice Sanders!”  They’d been to law school together.  Tom cared about him. Tom cared about everyone. We never needed it.

I got to watch – I got to help – Tom make the common law better. Tom respected the legislature’s power to write dumb statutes.  He told me about that a lot.  But he didn’t think judge-made common law was some sacred, mystical thing.  It was a thing made by people that could be made better by people.

A few years ago, we worked on a case where we concluded that yes, a judge had correctly applied judge-made common law to affirm a conviction even though the prosecutor had made racist comments in front of the jury.  I thought that was sad.  He decided we were going to change that law. And we did. We made the state prove in those cases that the misconduct didn’t affect the verdict, rather than making the accused prove it did.  He made the law better.

Another time, Tom took on a case of a twelve year old kid who pled guilty to a crime he almost certainly didn’t commit.  His public defender did no real investigation because he had way too many clients to do such things.  Instead, he led the kid to believe that if pled guilty and kept his nose clean for a few years, it’d all go away.  But under statutes passed by our legislature, it would never have gone away.  It would have followed that kid for the rest of his life.  When the kid and his parents figured that out, they tried to withdraw his plea. Court after court turned him down. Until the case got to Tom Chambers.

Tom listened.  Tom made sure that kid got another shot at a good life.  Tom did more than that; he changed the law so that it mattered whether counties adequately funded public defense.  Larry Tribe, another one of the hero-lawyers of our time and the president’s constitutional law professor, called Tom’s opinion “extraordinarily well-reasoned and important . . . as it lays out the true standards for ineffective assistance of counsel –unlike almost all other opinions on ineffective assistance nationally.”  I have a copy of the letter thumbtacked to my wall at work.

He got frustrated sometimes. He and I got into some big fights about law our first few years together.  When I figured out not to say “you’re wrong,” but instead say “that wasn’t the law before you got here,” we started to make real progress.  And he did make real progress.

Tom said, all the time, “Tell a story.”  My chapter of Tom Chambers’ story is this. He had the smarts, drive, and charisma to have been a hell of a super villain.  Instead he fought on the right side of history. He didn’t finish the work, but nor did he desist from it.  We were doing work for him the day he died.

I’m gonna miss him terribly.

Tom Chambers: Champion of the People

The state of Washington lost a champion of the people when Retired Supreme Court Justice Tom Chambers passed away peacefully in his sleep on the evening of December 11,2013. Throughout his legal and judicial career, Justice Chambers advocated for the rights of the individual and staunchly supported the rights of ordinary citizens in the face of more powerful interests. He was known throughout Washington’s legal community as a true gentleman and a superb trial lawyer who rose to our state’s highest court, proudly declaring that his head remained attached to his heart when deciding legal issues.

Justice Chambers was born and raised in the Yakima Valley and grew up working on cars in his father’s gas station. Throughout his life he loved automobiles, his Harley Davidson and airplanes, becoming an accomplished pilot and serving as the chair for Washington’s chapter of the Pilot Lawyer Bar Association.

Tom Chambers graduated from WSU and attended the University of Washington School of Law, equal parts Cougar and Husky. Before he was elevated to the court, Tom Chambers was widely regarded as a top trial attorney committing his energies to representing individuals, primarily in personal injury actions. Justice Chambers believed in giving back to his community both personally and professionally. He generously mentored young attorneys and authored a 2-volume set on trying cases which is still regarded as the Bible of court room practice in our state trial courts. With a soft voice and an inquisitive mind,he was a master in the courtroom and distinguished himself with his ability to relate to jurors.

Tom Chambers worked tirelessly on behalf of his clients. Highly regarded by his peers, Justice Chambers served as President of both the Washington State Bar Association and the Washington State Trial Lawyers Association (now known as the Washington State Association for Justice) before his election to the court. WSAJ renamed its coveted Trial Lawyer of the Year Award the Tom Chambers Trial Lawyer of the Year. Among other accolades Tom Chambers has been honored by the University of Washington’s School of Law with the Henry M. Jackson Distinguished Alumni Public Service Award and was recognized by the Seattle Housing Authority Neighborhood House with the Good Neighbor Award for 20 years of commitment to residents of Seattle Public Housing. He was a founding member of both the Damages Attorneys Round Table and the Trial Lawyers for Public Justice. Both the American Board of Trial Advocates and the Washington State Bar Association presented Justice Chambers with lifetime achievement awards.

Tom and his wife, Judy, shared an ongoing commitment to helping others by creating and helping to maintain a Trust that provides basic medical supplies to low income Seattle families. Tom Chambers worked tirelessly on behalf of ordinary citizens during his years in private practice. When he rose to the state’s highest court he authored seminal opinions, including a groundbreaking opinion on the rights of foster children as well as a widely cited case on the constitutional right to competent representation when charged with a crime whether or not the defendant can pay for an attorney. Justice Chambers remained proud of the fact that he never forgot his roots. And in turn, he will never be forgotten.

Always a warrior, Justice Chambers fought a long and courageous battle with cancer. He treated his medical condition as a courtroom adversary and continued to live life to the fullest, traveling around the globe, enjoying people of different cultures and exploring oceans all over the world as a scuba diver. Justice Chambers became so accomplished at that sport he achieved the rank of Divemaster. On one of his last forays beneath the sea Tom led his two eldest grandchildren on their first open water dives.

Justice Chambers is survived by his wife of 46 years, Judy, and 3 children: Jolie, Jana and Tom Jr, their spouses, and 6 grandchildren.


(Tom speaks only for himself in this blog and not for the Court.)

A status report on Tom and Judy’s health is at the end.

 On October 27, I was the recipient of the 2013 UW School of Law Henry M. Jackson Distinguished Alumni Public Service Award.  Being chosen for the award was great.  I thought about all the athletes who have a microphone stuck in their face and asked, “What does winning this game (match, tournament, race, etc.) mean to you?”  Well, it is bigger than that.  You can set your sights on winning a game or championship, being named “All Star” or becoming president.  But this award is not something you can reach for.  Instead, 45 or 50 years after becoming a lawyer, your peers tap you on the shoulder and say, “Tom, you have distinguished us and yourself with a lifetime of work and personal decisions.”  It is cool.

The awards presentation was fantastic too.  First, I was told that the UW School of Law had its largest turnout ever for its awards presentation by over 100 people.  My class of 1969 was well represented.  A young Japanese Lawyer, Kazuaki Sono, joined our class as a 1L and became the first person to become both a US and Japanese lawyer.  He helped establish the Asian Law Studies program at the UW Law School.  He, his wife, his mother-in-law, and his two boys were guests in our home on many occasions.  We became lifelong friends.  He went on to an extremely distinguished career at the United Nations and as a professor at the University of Sapporo.  He traveled from Japan to be at the event and to be with me and is pictured above.

After several years as clerks, public defenders, private practice and other efforts at the law, four classmates, Jim Marston, Hal Hodgins, Bud (Owen) Gardner and I came together to start shaky private practices out of the Fourth and Pike Building in downtown Seattle. Jim, Hal and I ended up practicing together for about 15 years. We call ourselves the Four Musketeers.  We were together again.

From left: Hal Hodgins, Tom Chambers, Jim Marston, Bud Owens.


Dean Testy presented and Justice Faith Ireland (Ret) did me the honor of accepting the award on my behalf.  A family member caught the presentation, about 10 minutes, on a video camera if you would like to watch.



If you have been reading these updates, you are aware that my treatment and activities have been in waves.  I get very sick with cancer, take chemo for a month or two, get very sick from the chemo, take a few weeks to recover from the chemo and have a few weeks of activities before becoming so sick from cancer that I must take chemo again.  I am thankful for the waves because it has permitted Judy and me to make some trips and squeeze some more joy out of life.  But the wave cycle is shortening and I am progressively more de-conditioned.

My doctors have offered an alternative to chemo, which I refer to as the trials drug.  Instead of attacking the tumors with toxic chemicals, the trials drug boosts the person’s own immune system.  It is only effective for about 20% of those who have tired it.  But to my doctors, I look like a good fit for this trials drug.  If it works, I would have an infusion of the trials drug once every two weeks.  There are few side effects.  If it works, the trials drug offers a potentially longer land better quality of life.

There was no easy way to slide from the chemo drug to the trials drug.  The chemo drug is harmful to the immune system.  So I did not take the chemo drug as planned after September in Hawaii.  By the time we left Hawaii, I had a tumor in my armpit the size of a golf ball.  I think chemo would have brought it down in size but delayed my goal of getting the trials drug longer.

I started the trials drug, the tumor grew at an incredible pace so it was the size of a softball in about 3 weeks.  I was in incredible pain.  I had a ten day course of radiation on the tumor in my left armpit only.  The last day of the radiation was Oct. 27, the day I received the Henry M. Jackson Award.  I was a hurting puppy on that day.

The radiation on my armpit is working and the tumor has shrunk to the size of a tennis ball.  The pain is still there but not as sensitive.  I still use the pillow you see in the photos to prevent my arm from squeezing my armpit.

I have now been on the trials drug 5 1/2 weeks.  It is too early to tell if it is going to work but there are no definite signs of improvement.  On the other hand there are no definite signs it is getting worse.  But I am very fatigued and de-conditioned. I want to sleep all day.  I am in a wait-and-see situation right now.  I am not planning any trips but have not given up hope.

Judy is also on waves.  Her infusions are three weeks apart and for the first 5 days or so after an infusion, she is too sick to leave the house.  When we returned from Hawaii in September, they discovered that one of the tumors in her brain had grown to about an inch and she had a couple of small ones.  She had Gamma Knife (radiation) surgery to remove the tumors.  She reports feeling much better.  This is the first Gamma Knife surgery she has had so it remains to be seen how long it lasts but likely a long time.


A Picture Postcard From Maui

I have no legal views to share with you this month.  But would like you to know that Judy and I are still doing well.  On Sept. 25, 2013, after 10 days we said Aloha to Maui once again.  We had a great time.  I had to avoid the sun and heat and Judy was limited in how far she could walk so we missed a few things like our sunset walks in the surf but we stayed active and managed 8 scuba dives.

Eric, Judy and Tom on the B & B Scuba boat.  We have been diving with B & B Scuba for 13 years and they were wonderful in accommodating our needs and limits.  Eric is a Dive Master.  Both Judy and I are also Dive Masters and have actually done some dive guiding in these waters.

Above, Judy is playing with a school of Reticulated Butterflyfish.

This Stag Horn coral is home to an Arch Eyed Hawkfish, Yellow Tangs, and Damselfish among others.

A very pretty Orange Spined Surgeonfish.  It is called a surgeonfish because the spine near its tail is blade sharp and is used as a defensive weapon.

A Yellow Margin Eel and some red Soldierfish.


A Spotted Whitemouth Eel

A Spotted Eagle Ray did a fly by.

A pair of Moorish Idols.  They have such pretty faces.

This is an unusual posture for a Sea Turtle.  Just hanging Hawaii loose.

Judy’s shot of Tom taking pictures.


 It was admittedly a lot of effort requiring special preparation for us to dive.  I am a little weaker (maybe because of the sequencing of chemo) and in more pain than in May when we went to Grand Turk.  I am using a special mouthpiece because I can only open my mouth wide enough to insert one finger.  I also have a special low profile feeding tube button that I can cover with a waterproof vacuum bandage to seal the hole in my belly.

  Judy feels low on oxygen probably because her chemo reduces her red blood cells so she used Nitrox on all dives.  The air we breath is 21% Oxygen, 78% nitrogen and 1% other (mostly argon).  The Nitrox Judy used was enriched to 36% oxygen.  Nitrox requires special training as oxygen can be toxic on deep dives but we stay at 50 feet and above.  The effort was worth it because once we are underwater, I truly feel alive.  We both feel better underwater than on land.  We are weightless and move about slowly studying the animals with little effort.

 The heat is hard on me.  Judy says my thermostat is broken.  We took drives in our air-conditioned car and went to the air-conditioned aquarium one day.

We both feel so very fortunate to have traveled and dived around the world (See my March 2013 entry, “A Rich Life).  I am proud of the above pendant because I designed (or at least had the concept for) this pendant Judy wears more often than not.  The black pearl represents the world and the two dolphins represent Tom and Judy.  Judy is the dolphin in front in white gold and Tom is the dolphin in back in yellow gold.  To me it represents the joy, like two playful dolphins, we have shared scuba diving which has often taken us to exotic places.


(Tom speaks only for himself in this blog and not for the Court.)

“It was a tragic night.  On June 28, 2005, Jesus Jaime Torres, Sr. drove from Pasco to Sunnyside, Washington.  It is not entirely clear what happened next, but we know that shots were fired. Upon hearing the gunshots, neighbors summoned police, who arrived at a bloody scene.  In all, five people had been shot and two, including Torres, later died.  Police found the door to a home open and a puddle of blood in the entryway.  The police entered and found an injured man and $57,990, packaged to resemble a kilogram of cocaine. Torres’s car was parked outside, a door and the trunk open, both stained with blood.  Five bags of what appeared to be cocaine (but was in fact powered plasterboard) were nearby.

Exactly what happened that night may never be known but it appears after being shot, Torres managed to stumble to a nearby home where the residents disarmed him before letting him in and calling 911. He was taken to a local hospital before he died. Cash in the amount of $9,342 was found on Torres’s body, some by hospital employees while treating him, some during an autopsy.”

Guillen v. Contreras, 169 Wn.2d 769, 772, 238 P.3d 1168 (2010), available here.

One does not think of judicial opinions as scintillating prose.  Lawyers, for the most part, find judicial opinions painful to slog through.  Judicial opinions are often so filled with jargon and alphabet soup they leave most non-lawyers bewildered and baffled.  As I explained to each new clerk who helped me, we appellate judges are the only authors whose writings require reading no matter how badly we write.  That does not give us a license to be boring and obscure.

I have received many compliments on my opinions both for style and content.  I recently received a nice letter from the Washington Appellate Lawyers Association saying in part: “Your many published opinions are clear, concise (a rarity these days) and well reasoned.  We note that many of your opinions yield hundreds “citing references” on Westlaw.  These often include courts from other jurisdictions which have found your opinions to be persuasive precedent.”

I think there are several reasons why lawyers and others like my opinions.  First, before I began writing an opinion I would ask myself three questions: 1) what is it I want to accomplish with this opinion, 2) who is my audience, and 3) how can I make it interesting to read?  Having answered these three questions, I would then begin to organize the opinion.

1) What is it I want to accomplish with this opinion?

The answer to that question would help me frame the issue.  And, of course, how the issue is framed will usually determine the holding.  The Washington Constitution requires that we give reasons for our rulings.  So, at the most basic level, an opinion must set forth the court’s holding and then justify that holding, nothing more.  I did not have a formula as did some of my colleagues. Most often I see opinions that set forth the issue to be decided, a review of the law in the area, and then a holding.  That model is taught in law school legal writing classes.  For me, it does not make for very interesting reading and the review of the law may be useful in a young lawyer’s memo to a senior partner, but totally unnecessary in a judicial opinion.  A review of the law, not tailored to the case before us may confuse and even undermine the holding and allow the opinion to be cited for propositions not intended by the court.

Most of the cases reaching the Supreme Court are complex with multiple issues often involving both statutes and constitutional claims and technical issues such as waiver and harmless error.  But even in these cases, the Court took the case to clarify only one or two issues of law.  Generally, my goal was to write so as to simplify and clarify the law on the one or two key issues the court wanted to clarify. Sometimes the area of law was new to me or quite complex.  It such cases, my goal was often to write very narrowly so as to not inadvertently screw up and make the law more confusing because of fact patterns or applications of my holding I had not thoroughly thought out.  After reviewing a host of cases involving police officers improperly inserting their opinions as to guilt of the defendant, I laid out in the opinion and by example in a footnote the proper procedure for introducing officer testimony to keep improper opinions from the jury.  State v. Montgomery, 163 Wn.2d 577, 589-94, 183 P.3d 267 (2008).  I had hoped judges and prosecutors would adopt the approach and while I don’t know if it did any good, my impression is we saw fewer of those cases after the opinion was published.

2) Who is my audience?

Generally, if it was a criminal case, I wanted my holding to be in simple words so that every jailhouse lawyer and cop on the street would understand.  Sometimes, I would write a scholarly opinion but insert one summary paragraph for the jailhouse lawyers and cops.  For example, in a technical case about the interplay of the special sex offender sentencing alternative (SSOSA), pre-confinement community custody, post confinement community custody, and constitutional limitations on maximum sentences, I summarized the holding in as plain as terms as I could using a metaphor I hoped many people would relate to.  I explained that  “When the legislature created SSOSA as an alternative for sex offenders amenable to treatment, it provided to the courts two tools: a carrot and a whip. The suspension of the sentence subject to treatment and other conditions is the carrot. Incarceration followed by supervised time in the community is the whip. Time spent eating the carrot and time spent under the whip are qualitatively different. The legislature did not intend that the time the offender spends nibbling at the carrot would reduce time under the whip.” State v. Pannell, 173 Wn.2d 222, 233-34, 267 P.3d 349 (2011), available here.

Once I wrote an opinion on the taxation of sewage and sewer lines.  The area is controlled by engineering terms that have very specific meanings.  I checked out an engineering dictionary and wrote for an audience of engineers.  City of Spokane ex rel. Wastewater Mgmt. Dep’t v. Wash. State Dep’t of Revenue, 145 Wn.2d 445 38 P.3d 1010 (2002).  Another time I wrote an opinion on future interests in real property.  I decided the case would mean what ever a highly regarded commentator in the area would say the case meant, so the commentator, William Stoebuck, became my audience. 1515–1519 Lakeview Boulevard Condo. Ass’n v. Apartment Sales Corp., 146 Wn.2d 194, 43 P.3d 1233 (2002).  There was once a brief moment after working on a case for over a month, I thought I understood the concepts of double jeopardy and merger.  My goal was to spare trial judges my agony. I laid out a four step analytical framework for Judges, my audience, to use when addressing those issues.  State v. Freeman, 153 Wn.2d 765, 771-73, 108 P.3d 753 (2005).

3) How can I make it more interesting to read?

As a trial lawyer, I learned that everyone enjoys a story.  No matter how dry the legal issue, every case has a story.  I would often bring the reader in by telling a story with the facts.  In the opening of this blog, I quoted the beginning of the facts involving the death of Mr. Torres in a drug deal gone bad.  The facts had little to do with the issue which was whether the State could confiscate the money found on his person, but it certainly makes the opinion a more interesting read.

I know I would not be receiving compliments on my opinions had I not had brilliant clerks (lawyers, often top of their class and right out of law school).   I was blessed to have one permanent clerk, Laura Anglin, who was my right arm for 12 years.  I would like to acknowledge and thank my clerks: Tonie Davis, Margaret Brammall, Margaret Elofson, Barbara Rhoads-Weaver, Kyle Olive, Todd Reichert, Bryan Doran, Jennifer Sweigert, Richard Goldsworthy, and Nathan Sherrard.