Carolyn Dimmick. Photo courtesy of Carolyn Dimmick

Carolyn Dimmick

First Supreme Court Justice

“In the 1970s, Washington women lawyers were getting organized. Grouping together gave us courage. And we overcame.” - Carolyn Dimmick

Far from the stereotypical judge, pretty and youthful Carolyn Dimmick rapped a gavel for the first time in 1965. Forty-five years later, you can still find her on the bench. As much as ever, Dimmick remains widely respected for her integrity and her plain-spoken smarts.

Carolyn Joyce Reaber was born October 24, 1929 in Seattle. Strong parents instilled confidence in Carolyn and her brother. In 1953 – years before the Women’s Liberation Movement gripped the nation – that confidence paid off when Dimmick graduated from law school.

She became an Assistant Attorney General in Olympia before joining the King County Prosecutor’s Office in Seattle. She met Cy Dimmick, a war hero and fellow attorney. Cy was more than a decade older than she was, but they were a good match. The couple had two children.

At a time when women vacillated between going to work and staying at home, Dimmick’s career took off. She was highly competent, confident and charming all at once.

In 1965, at Cy’s urging, Dimmick applied to be a judge on the Northlake Justice Court. When she got the job, she jokingly told her husband, “Just call me judgie.”

In 1976, Governor Dan Evans appointed her to the King County Superior Court.

Five years later, Washington’s first female governor, Dixy Lee Ray, named Dimmick to the State Supreme Court. In addition to earning a place on the bench, Dimmick won a place in history as the court’s first woman justice. In Washington, D.C. that same year, Sandra Day O’Connor became the first female member of the country’s highest court.

In 1985, President Ronald Reagan appointed Dimmick to the U.S. District Court.

Among her high-profile cases, Dimmick wrote the majority opinion in a 1984 decision to affirm the death sentence for Charles Rodman Campbell, who savagely murdered three people while on work release in 1982. However, Dimmick now believes the death penalty is too expensive and laws need to be rewritten.

At age 79, Dimmick is as passionate about the practice of law as ever – and isn’t ready to fully retire.

“Never met a legal job I didn’t love,” she says.