Many organizations have celebrated the life of Betty Binns Fletcher since her death on October 22. The University of Washington School of Law proudly remembers her as an alumna. K&L Gates (as it is called today) knows her as the first woman to make partner in its Seattle office. The Ninth U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals has claimed her for more than 30 years as one of its most-celebrated jurists. And most importantly, her family saw her as a loving wife, mother and grandmother.
Even with that stiff competition for bragging rights, I argue that if Judge Fletcher were asked to name the organization with which she had the strongest connection, it would be the King County Bar Association.
She recounted to me recently that her involvement began immediately after law school graduation at her swearing-in ceremony as an attorney. "There was a representative of what we then called the Seattle Bar Association," she said.
"We talked a bit about the local bar association and the importance of lawyers, and particularly young lawyers, getting themselves involved with the local bar. And then Charles Horowitz, who was a partner in a law firm where I had gotten a job, was very active in the bar and was soon going to be president of the bar association, so that there was no way anybody in our office could avoid becoming active in the bar."
And active she became. In 1958, she launched this very publication, the Bar Bulletin, along with Louis Pepper. In the inaugural issue, she noted, "We cherish the fond hope that we will be so successful in this that committee chairmen, officers, etc., will be fighting for space in the Bulletin" and that the publication would include "tidbits of news and information and humor of peculiar interest to the local bar."
She explained to me what the editor job involved. "I went around and talked to the judges about the important cases that they had in their courts to do little squibs in the Bulletin," she explained. "And then I would go and talk with the lawyers that were handling those cases. I became generally acquainted with quite a few people in the bar."
With her visibility in the local legal community came opportunities for further leadership, including serving as the board secretary, which she noted in the 1960s was considered a job reserved for women. She took the position, but only after securing an agreement. She recounted telling the leaders, "I will run for secretary, but I would like to think that I could be considered for trustee one day if I do a good job."
Not only did she become a trustee, but eventually second vice president, first vice president and, ultimately, president in 1972. She was KCBA's first female president, a fact that required some big changes in other institutions in 1970s Seattle. For example, many bar meetings at the time were held at the Rainier Club. However, women were then required to enter through a side door instead of the main entrance. The bar boycotted this club until eventually the club changed its policy and made Judge Fletcher a full member.
Even after her term as KCBA president, Judge Fletcher remained active in the bar, serving on committees and task forces, and regularly attending events, including an annual past presidents' breakfast. She always said yes when KCBA called on her to assist with a project, including two projects as recently as 2011, when she interviewed legal journalist Jeffrey Toobin at a reception and served on a policy forum planning committee. Just a couple of weeks before she passed away, we were exchanging emails so she could become involved in yet another project.
In all these activities, I always saw Betty Fletcher first as a proud KCBA member - only second as one of our nation's leading jurists. While I've only known her for a few years, she definitely touched my life and I will miss her greatly.
Andrew Prazuch is executive director of the King County Bar Association. He can be reached by email (email@example.com) or phone (206-267-7061). For more information about Judge Fletcher, visit www.kcba.org/aboutkcba/history/fletcher.