OLYMPIA — Washington Supreme Court Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst, who has been fighting a third bout of cancer, announced Thursday she will retire in January to focus on her health.
In a phone interview with The Associated Press, Fairhurst said she recently had to take off two weeks of work because of high blood pressure and high pulse and decreased energy, which gave her time to think about whether she should keep up her busy schedule. She said her decision to retire became clear after she asked her doctor for her life expectancy prognosis and learned she had between nine months and two years.
“I’m an overachiever and I believe in miracles so I’m not accepting that as a death sentence but I am accepting it as the universe telling me I need to focus on my health and spend time with my family and friends and let the good work we’ve been doing here on the court continue with those who have more energy than I have going forward,” she said.
Fairhurst, who was first elected to the court in 2002, was elected chief justice by her colleagues in 2016.
In a letter to Gov. Jay Inslee, Fairhurst wrote she will leave on Jan. 5 and said that it was her “greatest honor” to serve on the court.
Fairhurst, 62, was first diagnosed with colon cancer in late 2008 and it later spread to a lung. After a final treatment in 2011 and several years of no evidence of disease, Fairhurst said that the cancer returned late last year — appearing in her lungs, liver, thyroid and spleen. She continued to work while undergoing chemotherapy.
In a statement, the court said that Fairhurst will complete the fall term of oral arguments before the court and will travel to Bellingham to hear cases and visit classes at Western Washington University next week. She will also travel to Washington, D.C. on Oct. 26 to be honored along with others at a ceremony at the U.S. Supreme Court.
Inslee in a written statement said that Fairhurst’s “remarkable leadership and tireless community engagement will continue to have a positive impact on our state long after she’s left the bench.”
Inslee, a Democrat, will appoint a new justice to fulfill the remaining year of Fairhurst’s term, and the seat will be open for election in 2020. A new chief justice will be selected during a Nov. 6 meeting of the court. Those selected as the new justice and new chief justice will be sworn in at the beginning of January.
In an email to colleagues Thursday, Fairhurst wrote that her decision to retire was difficult but encouraged them to keep believing in miracles, saying that she still does.
“Everything is a miracle. Every day is a miracle,” she wrote. “Let’s not waste the days we have.”