Cassandra Lopez-Shaw (left) and Robert Grant.

Cassandra Lopez-Shaw (left) and Robert Grant.

Lone local judge race: Defense attorney vs. deputy prosecutor

Cassandra Lopez-Shaw would be the county’s first Latina judge. Robert Grant is endorsed by retiring judge Eric Lucas.

EVERETT — A judge seated on the bench tends to stay on the bench at 3000 Rockefeller Ave.

Of the 15 judicial positions up for election in Snohomish County Superior Court, just one was contested. It’s the race to replace retiring Judge Eric Lucas.

If the pattern holds, the victor could remain a judge for much longer than the initial four-year term.

Lucas has endorsed Robert K. Grant, 38, a career prosecutor, to be his successor for the nonpartisan position.

Cassandra Lopez-Shaw, 52, is running to be the county’s first Latina judge and the first woman of non-European heritage. She received 44.6% of votes last year in a campaign against Judge Paul Thompson, a former public defender who was running to keep his appointed seat.

She said she made her decision to try again last December, before she knew Grant would be pursuing the position, too.

“Last year,” Lopez-Shaw said, “I felt some animosity because people were mad that a defense attorney would run against a defense attorney. But I tried to explain to people nobody’s going to wait for me. Nobody’s going to step aside and say, ‘It’s Cassandra’s turn this time.’ I’m always going to have to run against somebody. Because that’s how it works to be a person of color.”

Lopez-Shaw’s private practice on Hewitt Avenue focuses on Spanish-speaking clients. Over the past 17 years she has practiced in the fields of civil, family, administrative and child dependency law, with immigration status as a backdrop in many of her cases. She worked as a public defender before opening her own law firm, where she’s the only employee. She estimated she has done about 200 trials in her career, all across the state.

“It is difficult for me, to be quite honest, to justify myself or to feel like I have to quantify my experience when it is so vastly superior,” she said, adding that other women attorneys, from Kamala Harris to Amy Coney Barrett, had to fight for respect that male colleagues take for granted.

This year most of her caseload involved DUIs and felonies.

Lopez-Shaw lived in Los Angeles during the Rodney King riots of the 1990s. She graduated from Loyola Law School. Her son and daughter are on active duty in the military. Her husband, Michael Shaw, also served, in the Marines, and he’s now a high school science teacher in Mill Creek. The couple co-authored a book, “Two Mids,” about their love story and the many challenges they faced along the way: poverty, war and parenthood.

Grant graduated from Western Washington University, then worked at an addiction treatment center in Sedro-Woolley.

“It was involuntary,” Grant said. “So they were often involved in the criminal justice system and had to get treatment. All the stories they told me about how (the system) has treated them — mostly they were treated unfairly. They wanted to not be treated like a number, but like a human being.”

If law school didn’t work out, Grant’s fallback plan was to become a park ranger, he said. He studied at the New England School of Law before returning to his home state.

Grant has worked over a decade as a deputy prosecutor in the Snohomish County Courthouse, where he has tried serious felonies, including murder and crimes against children.

Both candidates have known each other since Grant clerked for Superior Court Judge Ken Cowsert, who retired in 2011.

Grant, the father of three children under age 10, named his first-born son after Cowsert, whom he described as like an uncle. Grant’s wife, Leah Grant, is a nurse practitioner.

Earlier in his career as a District Court prosecutor, Grant said, he handled about 1,000 cases per year.

He has served as a Municipal Court judge pro tem — a substitute judge — for four years in Edmonds under the mentorship of Judge Linda Coburn. He has performed the same pro tem role for a year in Everett Municipal Court.

“I think I’ve committed my career as a prosecutor and as a judge pro tem to treating people as human beings, no matter if they’re a victim or a defendant,” Grant said.

Grant garnered endorsements of 11 current Snohomish County judges, four state Supreme Court justices, local Republican and Democratic mayors, the local police and sheriff’s deputy unions, and many local prosecutors, including the county’s Adam Cornell.

“Robert is a champion for justice in our community and highly skilled at applying the law in a thoughtful, effective, and appropriate way,” Cornell said in a statement released by Grant’s campaign.

Some judges who have endorsed Grant are former public defenders. However, he is lacking public support from any current attorneys within the Snohomish County Public Defender Association, his most frequent legal adversaries in the courtroom.

In a public Facebook post, public defender Robert O’Neal said he would not be voting “against” Grant, but that he’s eager to vote for Lopez-Shaw. He wrote that she “is an independent person with no obligations or debts to the establishment, a worthy quality in a judge who will be tasked with acting as a check and balance on law enforcement, government, and corporate and moneyed interests.”

Public defender Natalie Tarantino, who has practiced law here for 25 years, said she does not believe Grant has the right temperament to be a good judge and that he can be “very arrogant, very petty, and very ill prepared for court.”

Grant pointed to a letter signed by four retired judges — Cowsert, Ellen Fair, Linda Krese and Thomas Wynne — as evidence against Tarantino’s statement.

“We have had the opportunity to observe Robert Grant as an attorney regularly appearing before the Snohomish County Superior Court,” the judges wrote. “Robert Grant’s earnest dedication to performing his role with professionalism, respect, reason, and restraint is apparent in the courtroom.”

In the Snohomish County bar poll, Grant was rated as the better candidate by a vote of 102 to 39.

Lopez-Shaw countered that bar members must pay dues to vote, that about two-thirds of bar members did not vote, and that many of those who did vote were Grant’s coworkers.

“That’s a difference between my opponent and I,” she said. “He’s establishment and I’m not. I do everything like a lone wolf. It’s me and my client against the world. I’ve done it in Snohomish and 15 other counties. So it’s not like I just have the experience of that courthouse.”

Lopez-Shaw has the backing of two current Superior Court judges, Anita Farris and Anna Alexander, as well as many locals in the progressive wing of the Democratic party.

She was rated as “exceptionally well qualified” by the Veterans Bar Association and the Loren Miller Bar Association, a Seattle organization of African American attorneys.

Campaign finance records show Lopez-Shaw has raised about $48,800, though almost $40,000 of that came out of her own pocket. Grant has raised $40,000, including $2,600 of his own money through in-kind contributions.

The Daily Herald spoke with both candidates this month. Here are some excerpts from their interviews.

When you go to the courthouse and look up on the walls at the past judges of Snohomish County history, you see a lot of white guys. Why should people vote for you instead of the candidate who would bring more diversity to the bench?

Grant: “So that’s a difficult one for me to answer. I am all about diversity, and I think there are certain populations that have obviously been underrepresented. This is a countywide position, and no judge is ever going to be as diverse as the county that they are to serve. The best thing that anyone can do, regardless of their diversity, is to listen to everyone, and make sure that everyone understands you, or feels like they’re being understood.”

Lopez-Shaw: “First of all, that’s an assumption that he’ll listen. Because the problem is you have to hope the person speaks, and that’s a fundamental flaw. A lot of people of color are raised to respect authority and not to speak out of turn, or not to say something that could be read as disrespectful, in the court, for example. So the problem is he’s assuming that he will be in a position sitting on the bench where someone will be open with him about what they’re feeling. And that’s not the case, and I know that because my clients when I’m sitting next to them often tell me something, and I tell them I’m going to raise the issue in front of the judge, and they get mortified. … While I respect my colleague’s open-mindedness that he will listen and he will be open to other people’s experiences, he’ll never understand what it feels like to be treated as less than, to be dismissed, to be spoken over. Him and his colleagues, in particular in Snohomish County, like to speak over female lawyers all the time. They don’t understand that that is disrespectful and rude. And unprofessional! Because it’s the culture. It’s expected.”

Do you have a Supreme Court justice you look up to?

Grant: “The answer is — it’s difficult, I guess. I haven’t given it much thought. In law school, we had Justice (Antonin) Scalia come over. He’s super conservative in his opinions, but then his best friend — and he was talking about her to our class — is Ruth Bader Ginsburg. Despite their philosophical differences, given this climate, we can come together and have common ground. And I think that’s especially true in the legal profession. Judge Coburn, we had plenty of trials against each other. We’d negotiate cases, it was a job. Do your job professionally, do it collegially, but at the end of the day you’re human beings, and you each have a position. … So no, there’s no Supreme Court justice that I would point to and say, ‘That’s who I want to be like,’ or that’s my person I have a poster of on my bedside table or something.”

Lopez-Shaw: “Is it too cheesy to say Ruth Bader Ginsburg, because I’m still broken up that she passed away? The fact that she fought for women’s rights at a time when it was so difficult, and she was just so strong-headed about it, and so disciplined about it, and she used old cases and did so much research, I really admire that. Also, her dissents were turned into legislation. … That’s effecting change, I think.”

What’s a salient, valuable lesson you’ve learned in your current position?

Grant: “You always have to do the right thing, no matter how hard it is. There have been a lot of cases where there are incredibly difficult facts. … The things that are difficult that, you know, you don’t see in the paper, or people don’t know about prosecutors, is when you have those conversations with child sex victims, and you tell them, ‘Hey, look, I believe you.’ You know this abuse happened to them, but I cannot prove it beyond a reasonable doubt. I have this high burden, and the defendant is presumed innocent. We all have those rights. We’re all entitled to those rights, and you have to do the right thing.”

Lopez-Shaw: “I end up doing a lot of pro bono hours. And I think learning to not let money define you, or let money determine your success, is very freeing because then you can focus on work. I think that’s the biggest lesson I’ve learned in my practice, to just do things for the right reasons, to try to help this person, and the rest is what it is.”

Caleb Hutton: 425-339-3454; chutton@heraldnet.com. Twitter: @snocaleb.

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