October 2013 Bar Bulletin
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Profile / Phil Talmadge

Making the Perfect Pitch

By Tom Fitzpatrick


Phil Talmadge has had one of the most significant legal careers in the history of Washington. For almost 40 years, his life as a lawyer, legislator and justice of the Supreme Court helped shape modern Washington law. He did this by learning how to make the perfect pitch.

Phil has three passions: family, the law and baseball. He grew up in West Seattle and, except for his undergraduate years at Yale, he has lived his entire life there. His dad was a fisherman and teacher, and Phil still reflects the working class background of his family and the West Seattle of his youth.

Although economically working class, the Talmadge household also was filled with books and art, particularly paintings by his grandmother, who was an accomplished local artist. Phil still considers many in the neighborhood as part of his extended family as he keeps up with childhood and high school friends, many with blue-collar occupations.

His affection for West Seattle also was honed from representing the 34th District for 16 years in the Washington State Senate. He was elected to the Senate when he was 26, the youngest senator in Washington history. He would go on to be re-elected three times.

His youth and exact questioning could sometimes be problematic early in his legislative career, symbolized by buttons in Olympia saying "I've been Philed." That period gave rise to what Phil believes is the biggest misconception about him: that he is an unrelenting partisan.

Phil reflects on those years by noting, "I loved the Legislature. It is a kaleidoscope with everything from administrative law to zoology. You have to make reasoned decisions on the fly."

When in the majority, he chaired the Judiciary, Health and Human Services Committees, and the Select Committee on Product Liability and Tort Reform. Phil's legislative legacy includes the 1981 Product Liability Act, statutes dealing with child abuse and neglect, the first toughening of DUI laws in the 1980s, the 1993 Health Care Reform Act, the creation of the Redistricting Commission and the Judicial Conduct Commission, and the State Administrative Procedure Act.

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