MPA Guest Speaker The Hon. G. Helen Whitener, Justice

Photo of Justice G Hellen Whitener wearing black and white judge regalia

On November 7th, 2020, Justice Whitener spoke with Amy Gould's MPA class, Foundations of Public Policy, about how to bring yourself(s) into public service and the role of the courts in policy

In 2016, Judge Whitener (now Justice Whitener) gave a TEDxPOS Talk entitled, “Claiming your identity by understanding your self-worth” where she discusses the empowerment of embracing respect and how it informs her philosophy and approach to living.

From her TEDxPOS Talk: "Respect yourself and earn the respect of others. Respect does not mean agreement, acceptance, or tolerance. Those concepts make us feel that we have to give up something in order to engage with someone with a different belief or value system. Respect actually means it's ok to disagree however it's the manner in which the disagreement is handled that's important. It should not include demeaning, minimizing, hateful or any such type of discourse or interaction."

The Hon. G. Helen Whitener, Justice, Washington State Supreme Court Biography

Justice G. Helen Whitener served as a Pierce County Superior Court judge until her appointment to the Washington State Supreme Court in April of 2020. Governor Jay Inslee appointed her to the Pierce County Superior Court in 2015 and she was elected to her position in 2015 and was re-elected to a full term in 2016.

Prior to serving on the Superior Court bench, Justice Whitener served as a judge on the Washington State Board of Industrial Insurance Appeals and as a pro-tem judge in Pierce County District Court and the City of Tacoma Municipal Court. Before becoming a judge, Justice Whitener litigated both civil and criminal cases for 14 years as first a prosecutor and defense attorney and later as a managing partner of the law firm of Whitener Rainey Writt PS.

Justice Whitener is well recognized by the legal community for her commitment to justice and equity. In 2020, Justice Whitener received Washington Women Lawyers Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst Passing the Torch Award and she received the International Association of LGBTQ+ Judges President’s Award. In 2019, Justice Whitener was awarded the Washington State Bar Association’s Charles Z. Smith Excellence in Diversity and Inclusion Award, the King County Washington Women Lawyers President’s Award, the Tacoma-Pierce County Bar Association Service to Diversity Award, and the Seattle University School of Law and Women’s Law Caucus Woman of the Year Award. In 2018, Justice Whitener received the Pierce County Washington Women Lawyers Woman of the Year Award.

Justice Whitener serves as co-chair of the Washington State Minority and Justice Commission and serves on the Board of

Directors of the International Association of LGBT Judges as well as on the Washington State Office of Civil Legal Aid Oversight Committee. Justice Whitener is a member of the International Association of Women Judges, the National Association of Women Judges, and the American Judges Association. She is also a former chair and co-chair of the Washington State Superior Court Judges’ Association – Equity and Fairness Committee. Justice Whitener is a judicial member of Washington Women Lawyers and is a judicial member of the Advisory Council for the QLaw Association of Washington.

Justice Whitener is the first Black woman to serve on the Washington Supreme Court, the fourth immigrant-born Justice, and the first openly Black LGBT judge in the State of Washington. Justice Whitener is often invited to speak to organizations locally, nationally, and internationally on human rights, access to justice, and the responsibility of the judiciary to ensure the right of all who appear before the court to basic dignity and respect in judicial proceedings.

Justice Whitener was born and raised in the Caribbean island nation of Trinidad and Tobago. In 2015, at the request of the United States Embassy, Judge Whitener visited her home country to speak on human rights. Justice Whitener earned her B.A. degree in Business Administration and International Marketing from Baruch College, New York, and received her J.D. degree from Seattle University School of Law.