By Aimee Green

Governor Kate Brown appointed Adrienne Nelson to the Oregon Supreme Court on Tuesday, marking the first time an African American has served on the high court in the state's 158-year history.

No African American judge has served on the state's second highest court -- the Oregon Court of Appeals -- either.

Nelson, who is in her early 50s, has presided as a Multnomah County Circuit judge for nearly 12 years.

At the time of her circuit appointment by then-governor Ted Kulongoski in 2006, she was the only African American judge in a state court system of about 200 judges. Today, there are five, three of whom were appointed by Brown last year.

"In addition to her work in the courtroom, she has made extraordinary strides to make the trial bench more receptive to the needs and experiences of diverse and underserved communities in our state," Brown said in a news release.

"Judge Nelson is a widely respected civil rights champion, whose perspective on the bench moves us closer to our shared vision of justice for all."

Nelson fills a vacancy created by retired Justice Jack Landau. Her appointment starts immediately.

"I'm very excited for the opportunity," Nelson told The Oregonian/OregonLive Tuesday.

The news organization wrote about Nelson in 2007, the year after she became a circuit court judge. She said when she moved to Oregon in the 1990s, some people didn't expect an African American woman to be a lawyer, and she was mistaken for a paralegal, a social worker or the suspect's girlfriend. Read that story here.

Nelson grew up on Arkansas. While in high school, her mother sued her school district for refusing to permit an African American student to be recognized as a valedictorian, according to the governor's office. Nelson's mother prevailed, and Nelson was named valedictorian, the governor's office said.

Nelson attended the University of Arkansas and later the University of Texas law school. She worked as a public defender at Multnomah Defenders Inc. for three years starting in 1996. From 1999 to 2004, she worked at the Portland law firm of Bennett, Hartman, Morris and Kaplan.

She was coordinator of Student Legal and Mediation Services from 2004 to 2006 at Portland State University before being appointed as a circuit court judge.

She is a past recipient of the Multnomah Bar Association's Award of Merit and the Oregon State Bar's Diversity and Inclusion Award.

(c)2018 The Oregonian (Portland, Ore.)