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Martha Lee Walters Will Become Oregon's 1st-Ever Female Chief Justice

<p>Martha Lee Walters is Oregon's first woman to serve as chief justice on the state Supreme Court.</p>

Oregon Supreme Court

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Martha Lee Walters is Oregon's first woman to serve as chief justice on the state Supreme Court.

On Oregon’s highest court, female justices outnumber men five to two. But never in its history has the court had a woman serve as chief justice. 

Until now. 

In a unanimous vote announced Monday, the court's seven justices have elected longtime Justice Martha Lee Walters to take the reins. 

Walters, 67, has been on the Supreme Court since 2006. Before that, she was a lead attorney in one of Oregon’s first all-women law firms, based in Eugene.  

As chief justice, Walters will preside over hearings, hand out opinion-writing assignments and oversee the administration of the state's Judicial Department. She'll take over for current Chief Justice Thomas Balmer on July 1. The term lasts six years. 

In a statement, Walters praised her predecessor as "an innovative leader and tireless advocate for Oregon's courts." 

Balmer, meanwhile, praised Walters' election. 

"She will continue to face challenges keeping Oregon’s courts open and accessible to all Oregonians, especially to children, families, and people needing the protection of the courts," he said. 

Copyright 2018 Oregon Public Broadcasting

Dirk VanderHart is JPR's Salem correspondent reporting from the Oregon State Capitol. His reporting is funded through a collaboration between public radio stations around the Northwest called the Northwest News Network.