EVERETT — Cassandra Lopez-Shaw, Snohomish County’s first Latinx judge, died Thursday morning after a battle with cancer. She was 54.
In her last moments, she was surrounded by her family in Everett, according to a news release.
Lopez-Shaw was a longtime defense attorney when voters elected her to a four-year term on the Superior Court bench in 2020 with over 55% of the vote. She was the county’s first woman of non-European heritage to be elected judge.
Colleagues remembered her as humane, kind, empathetic and professional.
Rico Tessandore, the former president of the Snohomish County Bar Association, in a statement called her a “beacon of caring, love, and optimism” and a “most courageous, spirited and independent leader.” Superior Court Presiding Judge George Appel called her “unfailingly cheerful.” Judge Anna Farris said she “empowered” and “protected” marginalized clients.
After winning election, Lopez-Shaw gave her female colleagues embroidered collars in the style of U.S. Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg.
“Cassandra was vibrantly and unapologetically feminine,” Superior Court Judge Anna Alexander said in a statement. “She transformed the space she occupied into something unique, happy and cheerful.”
“More importantly,” Alexander’s statement continued, “Cassandra transformed the emotional space she occupied in people’s lives into a warm, loving, safe, and supportive one. She cared deeply about people, and she proved it through her words and actions. Those of us who had been fortunate enough to be on the receiving end of her generosity have been forever changed into better versions of ourselves.”
Alexander told The Daily Herald she had an immediate connection with Lopez-Shaw. They talked about books and went on garden tours together. They chatted on the phone constantly, sometimes to their husbands’ dismay.
In one of their first interactions, Alexander asked about the floral and bright-colored dresses Lopez-Shaw wore in the courtroom, as opposed to the conventional suit.
“Oh Anna, I don’t look like anyone in the courtroom anyway, so I’ll just wear what I feel best in,” Lopez-Shaw responded.
Alexander said Lopez-Shaw “wasn’t going to be molded. She was going to be herself.” That demeanor “affected me profoundly,” Alexander said. For one, Alexander changed how she dressed in court.
“No one had ever seen a lawyer like her,” Alexander said. “No one had ever seen a judge like her.”
As a Snohomish County Superior Court judge, Lopez-Shaw served on committees for personnel and education, budget and planning, and drug court. She also coached a mock trial program and volunteered over 200 hours a year working pro bono, according to the news release.
Alexander remembered one Thanksgiving dinner when Lopez-Shaw left the table to take a call with a pro bono client. She did that all the time, Alexander said.
Humanity and compassion “is really something that she embodied and practiced and led by example,” Alexander told The Herald
Before her election, Lopez-Shaw’s private practice on Hewitt Avenue in Everett focused on Spanish-speaking clients. For 17 years, she worked in criminal, family and civil law. She represented clients across Washington and had done over 200 trials. In 2019, Alexander presented Lopez-Shaw with the Domestic Violence Advocacy Award for her work with domestic violence survivors.
Before opening her own law firm, she worked as a public defender.
Few people on the bench come from a background in defense. Alexander said it’s important to have judges who have represented people who are intimidated by the legal system.
Lopez-Shaw had planned to speak at the Edmonds International Women’s Day event Saturday, event organizer Alicia Crank said. Crank met Lopez-Shaw in 2019 when they were both running for public office. The pair became fast friends.
“She was a force to be reckoned with,” Crank said.
“She wanted people to know that they didn’t have to be hampered by their socioeconomic status,” Crank continued. “She wanted to help represent people that weren’t represented fairly in the system.”
Crank said Lopez-Shaw’s legacy as the county’s first Latinx judge will never be forgotten.
While she was the first, county Executive Dave Somers said in a statement, “We are confident her courage and convictions will inspire many to follow in her footsteps.”
Public defender Colin McMahon said Lopez-Shaw will be missed by many in the Snohomish County Public Defender Association.
“Regardless of whether it was as a judge, an attorney, a colleague, a mentor, or friend, the most significant thing our community has lost is Judge Lopez-Shaw’s compassion,” McMahon said.
Lopez-Shaw came to the United States at age 8. She grew up in the Los Angeles suburbs. She married Michael Shaw and had two children, who are both now in the military. The couple wrote a book together about their love story.
Lopez-Shaw graduated with her bachelor’s from the University of Washington before getting her law degree from Loyola Law School.
She is survived by her husband, her two children, Alexes and Michael, her mother and her brother.