Remembering Janice Niemi and All She Did For Women

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It won’t be forgotten.

Retired Judge Janice Niemi, who last week died of natural causes at 92, sprinkled enthusiasm over a generation of young women. She encouraged them to go to law school, become lawyers, work to overcome bias toward women lawyers and — above all — become active in helping other women succeed.

Judge Niemi knew women needed encouraging because she herself had faced much prejudice when she graduated — among the first women to do so — with a J.D. degree from the University of Washington law school. In those days, there were few options open to her. A newly-minted woman lawyer could work for the prosecutor’s office, work on sex-related cases or perhaps go into family law.

Once working in her chosen profession as a legal services lawyer and later as a municipal court judge, Niemi began visiting during LSAT (Law School Admissions Testing) to encourage young women to become attorneys. She and two like-minded colleagues, Betty Bracelin and Betty Fletcher, worked to found the King County Washington Women Lawyers organization. 

Along the way, Niemi had encountered much discrimination. As a judge, she had tried to join a group of male colleagues only to have them turn their backs. She was appointed to King County Superior Court Judge by Gov. Dan Evans in 1971 and then ran successfully for the position. But she often bridled at slights, such as the low marks women received from the Washington Bar Association.

Her career flourished taking her to D. C. to serve as acting counsel for the Small Business Administration under Jimmy Carter. She returned to Seattle and ran for 43rd district representative, serving five terms before taking the 43rd District Senate seat and then again running successfully for superior court.

During her years as a candidate for high office, Judge Niemi often sought endorsement from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer editorial board. It was during those visits I was privileged to get to know her and admire her fearlessness on behalf of others and herself. (She even ran — unsuccessfully as it turned out — for State Supreme Court and once for the 7th District congressional seat.) 

Judge Niemi left the King County superior court bench in 2000 and in her retirement devoted herself to her many enthusiasms: traveling, cooking and collecting art along with Dennis Braddock, her partner for 36 years. Braddock and Niemi not only amassed an exceptional collection but were even able to lend artworks to the Seattle Art Museum.

Through it all, Judge Niemi never forgot her mission helping women lawyers. Her obituary makes mention of her legacy, her two children and their spouses as well as four grandchildren. But the final line asks that donations, in lieu of flowers, go to the Washington Women Lawyers.

5 COMMENTS

  1. A couple of corrections: Janice was first elected to the Seattle District Court, not the Municipal Court. She was later elected to the King County Superior Court. She left the Superior Court in 1976 to work at the SBA in Washington, D.C. She was again elected to the Superior Court in 1996 (not certain of the date).

  2. Thanks, Jean, for remembering Janice. Appreciated your column about Janice’s life, work and career helping women. She will be missed.

  3. Thanks to Michael for the correction, hate to mess up on details, but it was hard to follow Judge Niemi’s meteoric career. She did so much and served as a trailblazer for Washington women.

    • Thanks. I came to Seattle in 1969 and worked with Janice at the Legal Services office at 2401 S. Jackson, a building demolished about 45 years ago. Janice and Preston “adopted” me as a new kid in Seattle. I was the nominal manager of her first election campaign, which mostly consisted of supervising neighborhood kids stuffing envelopes. Her election opponent, the incumbent, was Evangeline Starr, a character if there ever was one.

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