Cassandra Hollemon took the bench in a sweep of Black Girl Magic, becoming part of the historic moment when 19 African-American women in Harris County won spots overseeing some of the busiest courtrooms in Texas.
In the weeks since taking over Harris County Criminal Court of Law 12, Hollemon helped make a mark on local justice reform when she joined her colleagues in efforts to settle the landmark lawsuit over the county’s cash bail system. She served on the Community Supervision and Pretrial Services Committee, and offered a keen sense of humor with friends and colleagues.
On Monday, she died after weeks of struggling with “health issues,” according to fellow misdemeanor Judge Darrell Jordan. She was 57.
“We are saddened by the passing of Judge Cassandra Y. Hollemon,” Jordan told the Houston Chronicle. “She was a compassionate judge who treated one in a respectful manner.”
Now, the Harris County Commissioners Court will have to pick a replacement, according to Barbara Armstrong, a managing lawyer at County Attorney Vince Ryan’s office. Given the timing of Hollemon’s death, her replacement would take the bench through 2020, with the option to run then in an election to complete Holleman’s unexpired term ending in 2022.
After graduating from South Texas College of Law in 1994, Hollemon spent more than two decades practicing criminal law, she told the Chronicle editorial board last year. In November’s blue wave election, she bested Republican candidate John Spjut.
“She was competitive; she was a fighter,” said Judge Shannon Baldwin, the misdemeanor administrative jurist who sits on the bench in Court 4. “It’s really sad and humbling that she’s not here with us now.”
Also part of the Black Girl Magic, Baldwin met Hollemon in late 2017 as campaign season began ramping up. Hollemon offered humor and strength as the two got to know each other during the lead-up to the elections, Baldwin said.
At one point, struggling with the death of her mother, Hollemon almost dropped out of the race — but in the end decided to continue on.
Sometime after taking the bench, Hollemon began having health problems, her colleagues said. Jordan didn’t offer additional details on what that entailed, and was unclear whether she died in a hospital or at home.
“It was a pleasure to serve with her and she will be missed by all,” he said.
As news of her death spread, members of the legal community offered prayers and condolences.
“We have lost a promising judge, who had plenty of life experience, and had just realized her dream,” said Harris County District Attorney’s Office Chief of Staff Vivian King, who’d known the judge for years. “She was dedicated to using her new position on the bench to protecting crime victims and ensuring all defendants are treated fairly.”
The Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association took to Twitter to honor the jurist.
“We are saddened to hear of this sudden loss,” the group tweeted, “and send our deepest condolences to Judge Hollemon’s family and friends.”
The judge leaves behind a son, a daughter, and a granddaughter. The funeral is set for Saturday.
In the coming days, the appointment process will begin for filling Hollemon’s bench. Since the majority on the court are Democrats, it’s likely that the bench will go to another Democrat. In the past, county leaders have accepted resumes, letters and phone calls from people interested in the position and vetted them in executive session prior to a vote, said Pct. 3 Commissioner Steve Radack, who has served in the executive body for more than two decades.
Those interested in applying must be U.S. citizens, 25 or older, county residents for at least two years and licensed attorneys who have practiced law or served as a judge for four years, according to the state’s Office of Court Administration.
Over the past three decades, according to Radack, the commissioners have appointed more than 20 people to fill vacancies due to retirements, including sheriffs, constables, tax assessors, county clerks, justices of the peace and probate, civil and criminal judges and one county judge.
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