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.