When I sat down with Judge Mary Yu in early April to talk about her possible appointment to the Washington State Supreme Court, I was immediately taken by how serene she presented. It was 5:00 pm and the end to a long and, although she may never admit it, stressful day on the bench. At least, stressful to anyone other than Judge Yu.
"Can I offer you some water? Do you need anything?" she asked our team as we walked in.
Flattered by her commitment to making relative strangers feel welcome (but not being thirsty), we politely declined and walked with her back to her chamber. There were papers all over, a desk filled with the sparkings of a woman on a mission.
It was an enviable position to be in: the perfect pick for an appointment to the bench at the highest state level, except Judge Yu was clear on one thing -- she did not expect the decision to be an easy one. Governor Jay Inslee had a hard call to make with 21 candidates and she was only one of them.
But to those who knew her well, she was the only one.
"The process is really like a marathon, in the sense that you need to be interviewed by all the bar associations and various committees and all the people who want to weigh in and give the governor some input on one's competency," she told me.
Although she had 14 years as a trial judge in King County under her belt, she didn't expect any favors. It was a sincere desire to "make good" in the community that centered her level of gravity in this decision.
"...For our community, the way we construct our families, it's really important to have those protections under the law. So at the end of the day, I think bringing my experience as a trial court judge and bringing my experience in terms of my background and who I am, I hope is going to enrich the discussion," she said.
Something that struck me in a Harry Potter lightning bolt on the forehead kind of way: During our discussion, Judge Yu showed us a special book she had kept since December 9, 2012. It was a book of celebration, and a book of firsts. "Here to celebrate!" said one entry. "Watching my friends get married!" was another one. "Making history" was perhaps the most heart-inspiring that we looked at together.
I spoke to Judge Anne Levinson (ret.), a friend and colleague of Judge Yu's, about December 9, 2012.
"When we were poised to have same-sex weddings begin in our state, she was the first judge I called and without hesitation she volunteered to start officiating at midnight that Sunday and went until 7:00 a.m. that morning so that couples would not have to wait a day longer to get married," said Levinson.
"Some of the first couples to get married in the months that followed were couples for whom she had presided over their adoptions in past years. It meant everything to them that she would officiate."
It was a history of firsts not lost on Judge Yu.
"During the day I remember thinking, 'Well, I should probably take a nap.' But my bailiff and others, including Anne, kept saying the media's calling and the media's calling and all of a sudden we're thinking, 'This is a huge event,'" Judge Yu shared.
When I asked her how she felt about the governor's upcoming decision, her humility spoke for itself.
"I'm so lucky to be in this position. There's no guarantee the governor's going to make this choice at all. He really has, I think, a pool of really, very good people. But I sure would love -- because I know I'm qualified, I would sure love to be the first out lesbian up there on that court. First woman of color. First Asian in this area..."
Qualified and appointed. Gov. Jay Inslee made the official announcement that Judge Yu had been chosen to fill the vacant seat at 12:00 p.m. PT on Thursday, May 1, 2013.
May Day! We have a new leader.
One might offer that we, as an LGBT community, are in love with Judge Yu for her commitment to our lives, successes, families, and struggles. They would be half-right. We (the collective "we") are simply in love with justice... and we have indeed found that in Judge Yu's appointment to the Washington State Supreme Court.