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Press Release

U.S. Attorney Vanessa R. Waldref Honored by Washington Women Lawyers for “Passing the Torch” and Going “Above and Beyond” to Mentor Women Lawyers

For Immediate Release
U.S. Attorney's Office, Eastern District of Washington

Seattle, Washington – On October 7, 2023, Washington Women Lawyers (“WWL”) selected United States Attorney Vanessa R. Waldref as the 2023 recipient of the Justice Mary Fairhurst Passing the Torch Award. U.S. Attorney Waldref was honored at WWL’s Annual Event, which was held at the Seattle Art Museum. 

Each year, WWL awards the Chief Justice Mary Fairhurst Passing the Torch Award to an attorney that “has gone above and beyond in mentoring women lawyers, making a difference, and ‘passing the torch’ to others in a way that supports” WWL’s Mission — a mission, which is “to further the full integration of women in the legal profession, promote equal rights and opportunities for women, and prevent discrimination against them.”

During this year’s WWL event, U.S. Attorney Waldref was specifically recognized for her commitment to public service as a federal prosecutor, work as an adjunct professor at the Gonzaga University School of Law, and her dedication to mentoring students and lawyers alike. Vanessa Waldref is the first woman to serve as U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of Washington.  

After the award was announced, First Assistant United States Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington, Rich Barker, joined in congratulating U.S. Attorney Waldref on this prestigious honor:  “Vanessa is a trailblazer and incredible example of what it means to be a leader and mentor.  During her first two years as our United States Attorney, Vanessa has opened a new branch office in the Tri-Cities, led some of the most significant criminal and civil cases in our district, and encouraged new leadership opportunities for women within the office. Vanessa has also worked tirelessly to build an office that is not only diverse in background, skill, and experience, but also promotes equal opportunity, creates an inclusive culture, and promotes a workforce that reflects the diversity of Eastern Washington.”

In accepting the award, U.S. Attorney Waldref stated, “I am truly honored to receive this award, which recognizes Justice Fairhurst’s legacy of justice and stewardship in our great state. Justice Fairhurst is a mentor to so many women lawyers in Washington and beyond. She is an example of the type of lawyer and leader I strive to be — a person of integrity, who leads with conviction, compassion, and a commitment for doing what is right.”  She added, “Trailblazers like Justice Fairhurst inspired me as I took the helm as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Washington. I am grateful for the unique opportunity to lead such an incredible office and work closely with attorneys, law enforcement, and community stakeholders to build safer and stronger communities for everyone.”

First Assistant Barker added, “At both the U.S. Attorney’s Office and as an adjunct professor at Gonzaga, I have seen firsthand how Vanessa dedicates herself to mentoring law students and lawyers. She has dedicated her life to public service. In doing so, she inspires us to be better attorneys, better prosecutors, and most importantly, better people. There is no one more deserving than U.S. Attorney Waldref for the Justice Mary Fairhurst Passing the Torch Award.”

The award is named in honor of the Honorable Mary Fairhurst, who retired as a justice on the Washington Supreme Court in January 2020. She also served a four-year term as chief justice in 2016.

Additional information regarding WWL is available at