Washington Courts: Press Release Detail
Judge James Phillips, Washington’s first Native American judgeSeptember 23, 2008
The Washington State Supreme Court will host a ceremony and reception on October 1, 2008 for the presentation of historic photos to the Court of former Grays Harbor County Superior Court Judge James M. Phillips, who served the bench from 1929 to 1950. The event is scheduled for 8:30 a.m. in the Temple of Justice, and is open to the public.
“We believe that Judge Phillips was the first Native American to serve as a judge in the court system of the state of Washington,” said Chief Justice Gerry Alexander. The framed photos, which relate to the life and times of Judge Phillips, will be presented by the Grays Harbor Superior Court and will be displayed in the Temple of Justice.
“I am very excited about the photos,” Alexander said. “We very much appreciate the work of Grays Harbor Superior Court Judge Gordon Godfrey and his colleagues in calling attention to this important figure in Washington’s legal history.”
Members of Phillips’ family will be on hand at the event, as well as representatives of the county’s bar association and Native American tribes.
Phillips was primarily Cherokee Indian and had ancestry in other Native American tribes as well, according to his grandson, Aberdeen attorney James M. Brown. Phillips was born in 1873 in North Carolina and attended the Carlisle Indian School in Pennsylvania, where he played football under fabled coach “Pop” Warner and was a teammate of legendary athlete Jim Thorpe. Phillips attended law school at Dickinson College of Law and attended post-graduate law classes at Northwestern University in Chicago.
He and his wife, Earnestine, moved to Washington state around 1905. He served more than 20 years on the Grays Harbor Superior Court bench, and also served as Aberdeen mayor. His daughter, Gladys Phillips, was among the first women attorneys in Washington and one of the first women to serve as a state legislator. James Phillips died in 1959.
“Our family deeply appreciates this recognition of my grandfather, but more importantly, the distinction of placing these photos in the Temple of Justice really pays homage to an important era in American history and the history of the state of Washington,” said Phillips’ grandson, attorney James M. Brown of the law firm of Phillips, Krause and Brown in Aberdeen.
“When my grandfather and his fellow members of the Carlisle Indians football team began their careers, Native Americans received little recognition outside their own culture; for the most part they were not thought of as ‘Americans’ and often were not even allowed to vote,” Brown said. “However, by the time my grandfather died, he and his teammates had effectively proven that Native Americans could compete with anyone on the gridiron, succeed in life and make important contributions to law, medicine, art and the well being of all our citizens.”
CONTACT: James M. Brown, (360) 532-8380, or firstname.lastname@example.org; Grays Harbor Superior Court Judge Gordon Godfrey, (360) 249-6363.
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