- Associated Press - Thursday, October 16, 2014

OLYMPIA, Wash. (AP) - Former state Supreme Court Justice Robert Utter, who served on the high court for 23 years until his opposition of the death penalty led to his resignation, has died at age 84, court officials announced Thursday.

A news release issued by the Administrative Office of the Courts said that Utter, who had been receiving hospice care, had died at his Olympia home Wednesday night.

Utter, who was elected to the King County Superior Court in 1964, was appointed to the Court of Appeals in 1968 by then-Gov. Dan Evans. He was then appointed by Evans to the state Supreme Court in 1971 when a vacancy arose. Utter served as chief justice from 1979 to 1981.

Supreme Court Justice Charles Johnson, who served on the court with Utter from 1991 to 1995, wrote in a prepared statement that the “state has lost a champion for justice.”

“Justice Utter will be remembered as a strong proponent of protecting individual rights and for establishing a foundation for basic fairness and equal treatment for all, principles that continue to guide judicial decisions and administration of the justice system today,” he said.

Utter resigned from the high court in 1995 in protest of the court’s handling of death penalty cases.

“I have reached the point where I can no longer participate in a legal system that intentionally takes human life,” Utter wrote in a resignation letter to Gov. Mike Lowry, according to a biography that is part of the Secretary of State’s Legacy Project.

Utter worked with judges in emerging democracies as a volunteer with the American Bar Association’s Central European and Eurasian Law Initiative and in 2003 received an award for his work.

In 2008, Utter was part of a team that spent five weeks talking with members of the United Nations’ International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda in the aftermath of genocide in that country in 1994 to learn about their experiences.

Utter is survived by his wife, Betty, three children and four grandchildren.

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