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The Oregon Supreme Court has for the first time in history selected a woman to serve as chief justice of the state's highest court.

COURTESY PHOTO - Martha Lee Waters, the state's first female chief justice for the state's highest court The Oregon Supreme Court has for the first time in history elected a woman to serve as chief justice of the state's highest court.

The Oregon Judicial Department announced Monday, June 4, that the court's seven justices had selected Martha Lee Walters as the state's 43rd chief justice. Her six-year term begins July 1.

Walters, 67, succeeds Thomas A. Balmer, who has served as chief justice since 2012. Balmer will remain on the court.

"Oregon's court system and judicial branch of government will be in great hands with Justice Walters," said Balmer, who plans to remain on the court. "She will continue to face challenges keeping Oregon's courts open and accessible to all Oregonians, especially to children, families and people needing the protection of the courts."

The chief justice presides over the Supreme Court and assigns opinions to associate justices to write after oral arguments on cases. The position also is the administrative head of the Judicial Department — the state court system consisting of 194 trial and appellate judges, 1,776 non-judge employees and two-year budget of $454.5 million.

Before joining the Supreme Court in 2006, Walters practiced employment and civil rights law at several firms in Eugene, including as a partner in one of the first all-women firms in the state, Walters Romm & Chanti, PC between 1992 and 1995.

One of her best-known cases was about obtaining the required accommodation under the Americans with Disabilities Act for a professional golfer who had a disability.

During her time on the Supreme Court, she has co-chaired the Oregon Tribal Court/State Court Forum and represented the court on the Oregon Law Commission, the Oregon State Bar's Disciplinary System Review Committee and the Russian-American Rule of Law Consortium, which took her to Sakhalin Island and Vladivostok to speak with judges about the American legal system.

She still serves on the Uniform Law Commission, which drafts laws for enactment by the states and was the commission's first female president between 2007 and 2009.

During her leadership role, the ULC drafted a state law to respond to difficulties that health care practitioners faced when they went to Louisiana to help victims of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. That act allows medical volunteers to provide emergency health care without obtaining a state license.

She graduated from the University of Michigan in 1972 and earned her law degree in 1977 from the University of Oregon. She is married to John H. VanLandingham, a Eugene legal-aid lawyer and housing lobbyist.

Paris Achen
Portland Tribune Capital Bureau
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