The voters elected Barbara Madsen as the third woman to serve on the Washington Supreme Court in 1992, and she was re-elected in 1998, 2004, 2010, and 2016. Justice Madsen was unanimously elected by her colleagues to serve two terms as the 55th Chief Justice of the Washington State Supreme Court, from 2010-2017. In that role she was the court's chief spokesperson.
Justice Madsen, a native of Renton, received her undergraduate degree from the University of Washington in 1974 and earned her J.D. from Gonzaga University School of Law in 1977. While at Gonzaga, Justice Madsen volunteered many hours with Gonzaga's University Legal Assistance Clinic and Spokane County Legal Services.
After completing law school, Justice Madsen worked as a public defender in King and Snohomish counties. In 1982, she joined the Seattle City Attorney's Office and was appointed Special Prosecutor in 1984. Mayor Charles Royer appointed Justice Madsen to the Seattle Municipal Court bench in 1988, where she served as Presiding Judge for two terms.
Justice Madsen is committed to public service and equal justice. When she served as the Special Prosecutor, Madsen developed the child abuse component of Seattle's Family Violence Project. After joining the Seattle Municipal Court bench, she helped develop a Domestic Violence Coordinating Committee to comprehensively address violence in the family. As Presiding Judge, she increased opportunities for women and attorneys of color to receive appointments as pro tem judges.
Justice Madsen's commitment to equal justice continues today on the Supreme Court. In 1998, she was appointed chair of the Washington State Gender and Justice Commission. The Commission, partnering with other community groups, succeeded in passing legislation banning the shackling of women prisoners during labor. Under her direction, the Commission has produced the Domestic Violence Manual for Judges, the Sexual Orientation Benchguide, the Sexual Offense Benchguide, and the Immigration Resource Guide for Judges, in partnership with the Minority and Justice Commission, as well as developing judicial education on a wide variety of gender issues and model policies designed to enhance the safety of victims of domestic violence. In 2001, Justice Madsen facilitated Washington's first Glass Ceiling Study. In 2004, Justice Madsen co chaired the Crystal Brame Committee which secured legislation requiring all police agencies to adopt investigation protocol for police perpetrated domestic violence and sexual assault. In 2005, she helped establish the Initiative for Diversity, a program encouraging legal employers to commit to and implement organizational plans to increase diversity. As chief justice, Madsen was instrumental in the development of a limited legal license technician program, the first in the nation, to address the critical justice gap for low and moderate income people. In 2013, Justice Madsen led the Supreme Court efforts to develop the Tribal State Court Consortium, encouraging and building partnerships among tribal and state judicial officers. In 2019, Justice Madsen was appointed co-chair of the Washington State Supreme Court Commission on Children in Foster Care, in which stakeholders work to improve court processes, laws, regulations and policies so children can move safely and quickly into stable homes, through reunification with parents or through adoption. In 2020, she was appointed chair of the Judicial Information System Committee. The committee oversees information technology for Washington courts, automating and supporting the daily operations of the courts and maintaining a statewide network connecting the courts and partner criminal justice agencies to the JIS database.
Among her many honors, Justice Madsen was the first recipient of the annual Myra Bradwell Award, honoring an outstanding alumna of Gonzaga University School of Law who has made great strides on behalf of women. Twice she received the Washington Women Lawyers Vanguard Award, in 1998 and 2002, for her leadership and inspiration for women in the legal profession. In 2010, she was named the Seattle University School of Law Woman of the Year and in 2011, she received the Social Justice Award from the Loren Miller Bar Association for her unwavering dedication to the pursuit of justice and equality in Washington State. In 2014, she was awarded the Gonzaga Law Medal from Gonzaga University School of Law. Justice Madsen received the 2015 Betty Binns Fletcher Leadership and Justice Award in recognition of outstanding leadership of the judicial branch. In 2020, Justice Madsen received the prestigious Joan Dempsey Klein Award by the National Association of Women Judges for her decades of work encouraging and supporting women in the legal profession.
Justice Madsen is a member of Washington Women Lawyers, the National Association of Women Judges, the Washington Initiative for Diversity, the American Law Institute, and the American Bar Association. She and her husband, Donald Madsen, live in Pierce County and have four children.