In recognition of her decades of work encouraging and supporting women in the legal profession, Washington State Supreme Court Justice Barbara Madsen has been named the 2020 recipient of the prestigious Joan Dempsey Klein Award by the National Association of Women Judges (NAWJ). Madsen will be presented the award during the association’s annual conference — held remotely this year — starting October 14.
The award is named after the co-founder of the NAWJ, California’s first female presiding justice, and recognizes someone who works to improve the number of women serving as judges, assists women judges in increasing their proficiency, and who supports improvement in the judicial branch.
Madsen was nominated for the award by state Supreme Court Chief Justice Debra Stephens, retired Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst, and Justices Susan Owens, Sheryl Gordon McCloud and Helen Whitener, all members of NAWJ.
Justice Madsen “personally recruited most of the Washington judges who are or have been members of NAWJ,” their nominating letter said. She served for 20 years as Chair of the Washington Supreme Court Gender and Justice Commission, one of whose core missions is to support women in the legal profession. Under Madsen’s leadership the Commission developed the groundbreaking educational program, “When Bias Compounds: The Intersectionality of Race and Gender in the Legal Profession,” spearheaded Washington’s annual Color of Justice program to encourage female students of color to consider the legal profession, sponsored annual judicial receptions for the three Washington law schools’ Women Lawyers Caucuses, and helped provide scholarships for women law students.
Justice Madsen was also instrumental in developing and supporting The Judicial Institute, an organization that has mentored and trained women and persons of color to run for or be appointed to judicial positions in Washington, with great success. She also started the Initiative for Diversity, which asks lawyers and legal employers to commit that they will hire, retain, and promote women and people of color in their workplaces.
When Madsen was elected to the Supreme Court in 1992, she become only the third woman justice in Washington – and the first who was not initially appointed,. She had four young children at the time and served on the Seattle Municipal Court bench, but felt strongly that women needed to reach for higher positions in the legal branch. She served as Chief Justice of the state Supreme Court from 2010 to 2017.
“Her personal courage and commitment has inspired many other women to stand up and take leadership roles, and to extend a hand to others to join them,” her colleagues said in their nominating letter.
Madsen, who has been a member of the NAWJ since 1986, said that the support and encouragement she received from other women judges across the U.S. has been invaluable over the years. “It is humbling to receive the Joan Dempsey Klein award, particularly knowing its namesake, and coming from an organization that has meant so much to me,” she said.