Washington State Supreme Court Justice Charles K. Wiggins, who overcame efforts by a group of wealthy businessmen to defeat him during the 2016 election, announced Thursday he will step down from the state’s highest court at the end of March.
Wiggins, 72, who was elected to the Supreme Court in 2010 and won a second term in 2016, provided Gov. Jay Inslee with a letter of resignation Thursday after announcing his decision to his colleagues at the Temple of Justice, according to a news release from the court.
“It has been a tremendous honor to serve on the Supreme Court for the past decade. However, I wish to spend more time with my wife, Nancy, and our family,” he said in a prepared statement.
Wiggins was targeted in the 2016 election by a pair of political action committees, Citizens for Working Courts and Judicial Integrity Washington, which raised nearly $900,000 to defeat him. The majority donors included Microsoft co-founders Bill Gates and Paul Allen, Clark County billionaire Ken Fisher and Seattle Mariners owner John Stanton.
Wiggins’ opponents cited a majority opinion he wrote overturning on constitutional grounds a man’s conviction in a child-pornography possession case, and his opposition to the state’s charter-school laws, which were found to be unconstitutional.
Wiggins, who called the concerted effort to remove him “an attack on the integrity of the court,” won with 58 percent of the vote.
Wiggins was admitted to the bar in 1976 and focused on appellate law, both criminal and civil, in state and federal courts. He practiced with a small Seattle law firm known at the time as Edwards, Sieh, Wiggins & Hathaway and later established a boutique firm on Bainbridge Island that specialized in appellate cases. Before joining the Supreme Court, he served as a judge in Division Two of the Washington Court of Appeals, a pro-tem superior court judge in King and Jefferson counties, and a pro-tem district court judge in Kitsap County.
Inslee, in a statement issued Thursday, said, “I thank Justice Wiggins for his decade of service on our state’s highest court, which was preceded by a distinguished career of over 30 years representing clients in both civil and criminal matters.
“I am grateful to Justice Wiggins for his many contributions to improving our system of justice,” the governor said.
Wiggins, the son of a career Army warrant officer, attended Princeton University on a military ROTC scholarship, according to the court’s news release. He graduated magna cum laude and was a member of Phi Beta Kappa honor society. After graduating, he served four years in the Army Military Intelligence Corps, achieving the rank of captain. While in the Army, Wiggins attended night school and earned a master’s degree in business administration. After leaving, Wiggins attended Duke law school with the help of the G.I. Bill. He graduated in 1976.
In his private life, Wiggins has served as an elder of Rolling Bay Presbyterian Church on Bainbridge Island, on the island’s Civil Service Commission and the Editorial Board of the Kitsap Sun. He has remained interested in scouting — Wiggins was an Eagle Scout himself — and he served on the Board of the Central Puget Sound Campfire Boys and Girls. He has traveled to Tijuana, Mexico, with his church’s high-school youth group five times to build houses for families and twice to post-Katrina New Orleans to work with Habitat for Humanity, according to the court.
He was the recipient of the 2010 Humanitarian Award from the Kitsap Bar Association after twice organizing attorneys to build homes for single mothers. In the early 1990s, Wiggins traveled to Albania three times to participate in judicial conferences and assist with that country’s transition from communism to democracy.
Wiggins’ term was to expire in 2022. The Secretary of State’s office said the governor will appoint a replacement until the 2020 general election, when the position will appear on the ballot for a two-year term. The seat will be on the ballot again in 2022 for the regular six-year term.
Inslee appointed another new justice, Raquel Montoya-Lewis, in December, to fill the vacancy created by the retirement of Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst. Wiggins’ replacement will be Inslee’s third appointment to the state Supreme Court.
Justice Wiggins and his wife, Nancy, have lived on Bainbridge Island for over 30 years, where they raised a daughter and son. The couple enjoy boating in the Salish Sea and hiking in the Olympic Mountains, according to the court’s news release. Wiggins also enjoys snowboarding and scuba diving.