EVERETT — A Snohomish County Superior Court judge led court hearings for hours this week while visibly sick and coughing, lawyers say.
One deputy prosecutor noted Judge Cassandra Lopez-Shaw seemed congested and coughed “to the point where it was so loud and disruptive that she started turning her microphone off while other people were speaking,” according to a letter Snohomish County Prosecutor Adam Cornell sent to Presiding Judge George Appel on Friday afternoon.
Now, it appears Lopez-Shaw has tested positive for COVID-19, according to court officials.
Cornell argued the judge, who was elected to the bench in 2020, may have “needlessly exposed members of my office, members of the Superior Court Clerk’s office staff, and others in the courtroom to COVID-19 infection by presiding in person over criminal calendars earlier in the week while she looked to be quite sick.”
In a brief phone interview before an appointment at the Everett Clinic, Lopez-Shaw said she was doing well. She said the second she coughed for the first time, she got a COVID test from court administrators.
In Cornell’s email, Chief Criminal Deputy Prosecutor Matt Baldock noted Lopez-Shaw announced in open court she had taken a rapid COVID test during a break in proceedings. That test came back negative, she reportedly said.
One deputy prosecutor noted being in Lopez-Shaw’s courtroom all day Tuesday while she appeared sick, according to Cornell’s letter.
During another break, a court staffer commented to a deputy prosecutor about how sick Lopez-Shaw appeared. The employee encouraged the attorney to “liberally” use hand sanitizer when handling paperwork the judge handed down, Baldock wrote.
Anyone at the courthouse must answer a short questionnaire attesting they don’t feel COVID symptoms, such as a cough or shortness of breath, and haven’t been exposed to the virus, Superior Court Administrator Andrew Somers said. Meanwhile, Lopez-Shaw was apparently still at work in person.
On Friday, Somers said the court was still gathering the facts as to the allegations.
The prosecutor said the incident adds to the argument that Superior Court jury trials should be suspended. Surrounding counties, like Thurston, King, Skagit and Pierce, have made the move in recent weeks amid a rise in COVID cases due to the highly contagious omicron variant.
In the two-week period from Jan. 2 to Jan. 15, the Snohomish County case rate was nearly 3,000 per 100,000 residents. That’s leaps and bounds higher than any other point over the last two years.
Cornell requested jury trials be suspended in a Jan. 5 letter to Judge Appel. Citing an article in The Daily Herald, he noted “our county’s COVID numbers are the highest they have ever been.”
In an interview Friday, Cornell estimated about a dozen staffers in his office have tested positive for COVID since the beginning of the year.
“It’s really high time that we suspend jury trials,” he said. “We are absolutely at a breaking point.”
Earlier this month, Everett District Court suspended jury trials through Jan. 31.