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Hundreds Pay Tribute to Slain Deputy City Attorney Saturday

Celestial Cassman was remembered by friends, family and officials at Lighthouse Point Saturday afternoon.

Celestial Summer Dove Cassman commuted to her high-powered job as a deputy city attorney on a pink scooter with a flower in her hair.

Her friends said she was a great inspiration and was always there for them. Her business associates said she was top in her field. She was a respected legal scholar, but hers was the office coworkers always stopped at to talk about their weekends.

She was remembered for two hours Saturday at Lighthouse Point by friends, family and coworkers. The Santa Cruz Police Honor Guard raised the flag and played Taps, and then people stood behind a podium of flowers to share their memories. Their stories on a windy gray day, when the sun fought hard to break through, showed the giant hole left in the canvas that is Santa Cruz.

"She seemed to find the balance that eludes so many of us," said her friend and U.C. Davis law professor, Lisa Pruitt. "Unlike so many law students, law school didn't socialize Celestial into the mold so often associated with lawyers—you know what I'm talking about—bombastic, hypercompetitive braggarts."

Cassman bucked the trend and did more to change the law school than it did to change her, said Pruitt.

"She was the same generous soul you all knew, which was no small accomplishment," she added. "Law schools generally are not wells or hubs or mills of kindness."

The memorial for the woman who represented the cities of Santa Cruz, Capitola and Half Moon Bay was a mix of laughter and tears, tenderness and regrets.

Cassman, 35, was born June 15, 1976, and was  on Sept. 1. Her ex-boyfriend, Gerald Galaway, 38, has been with the crime.

But that wasn't discussed Saturday at what was a celebration of her life.

She was a lawyer, who rather than putting off doing charity work until her career was established, worked for the Watsonville nonprofit CASA, Court Appointed Special Advocates, which provides support to children in the legal system.

"Most nonprofit boards are filled with people with white hair, like myself," said CASA president Lonnie Truax. "But Celestial was at the beginning of her career, and I know well the kind of time that career takes. It takes an enormous amount of time to be a young attorney.

"And yet, she found the time in her life to give back. She didn't wait until she was old. She didn't wait until she was retired. She found a way to give, because she knew how important it is for those of us who have so much to give back, to give a hand to those who have so little."

It was almost unusual that she became such a good student and graduated in the top fifth of her class at UC-Davis, recalled her father, Kenneth Cassman. She wasn't really interested in school when she was young.

But then, in a strange irony, something tragic spurred her onto a legal career.

“As a teenager, one of her closet friends was murdered by a boyfriend, and she testified the subsequent murder trial," he said. "The culprit was convicted, and I have some belief the seeds of her future career were planted as a result of this experience.”

He said he watched his daughter proudly.

“She was a deep thinker. She evaluated every facet of every issue as a diamond cutter envisions a gem from unformed minerals.”

Cassman was born in Hawaii and said to be the peacemaker, even in grade school. She lived in Portland, attended UCSC, took time off to travel around South America and became an attorney to help people, studying at UC-Davis. While there, she began working with indigent clients. She also co-wrote a study on racial integration at the school that was later cited by the Dean of UCLA as an important work.

She worked in Sacramento, but her love for the beach brought her to Santa Cruz, where she got a job with the law firm Atchison, Barisone, Condotti & Kovacevich, which represents the cities of Santa Cruz, Half Moon Bay and Capitola. 

Attorney Tony Condotti described her as a remarkable talent and said the firm's intention was to make her a partner.

“Her last day at work was a typical day," he said. "An email broadcast to the firm from Celestial first thing in the morning, ‘Fruit and yogurt in the kitchen. Happy Friday.’"

She was more than a stellar attorney, he and others recalled. Her office was the one people stopped by to plan their weekends on Fridays and recount them on Mondays. People, for her, were as important as the law. And the law was important.

Her five sisters, Crystal, Charity, Jessica, Marissa and Shawnee, described Celestial as one who never judged people and always found the good in them, as well as something to laugh about. Her longtime friend, Robyn Woods-Adams, said she honored her pledge to stay friends no matter what and found time in her busy life to be there for friends.

Her grandmother, Mary Ellen Cassman, shared an email Celestial sent her that showed why the law was so important to her.

“I am reading my Starbucks cup and I’m thinking about why I went to law school and why I’m in this gig.

"And I think of Scott Turow who wrote, ‘The law for all its failing has a noble goal, to make the little bit of life people can actually control more just. We can’t end disease or natural disasters, but we can devise rules for our dealings with one another that reflect the best vision of ourselves.’ ”

Johnny at the Harbor September 25, 2011 at 02:23 PM
Sad story..she lived a good and proud life. Terrible thing to happen to any woman..I hope her killer frys in hell. Johnny at the Harbor
Aaron Jacobsen September 25, 2011 at 08:55 PM
She certainly accomplished quite a lot in a short time and her tremendous affect on others was easy to see at yesterday's service.
Henry Burnett September 27, 2011 at 04:15 PM
The Community Mourns The Loss of a Very Fine Person.

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