Bar Bulletin

Bar Bulletin

Profile / Cynthia Jones: The Power to Change

Profile / Cynthia Jones: The Power to Change

March 2022 Bar Bulletin

By Hon. Richard A. Jones

I once read it is in the roots, not the branches, that a tree’s greatest strength lies. If you know where you are from, it is hard for people to stop where you are going. A tree’s beauty lies in its branches, but its strength lies in its roots. Ask anyone who has had the privilege of knowing, working with, or being mentored by Cynthia Jones, and they will tell you that her roots are the foundation of her success as an incredible lawyer, friend, and leader in the bar. 

If you don’t know Cynthia Jones and haven’t experienced a connection with her, you have been deprived of knowing a gift to the legal community and a prism of multifaceted talent. As her long-time friend and past co-counsel, Robert Flennaugh, explained, she is “a great person who somehow balances being a very hard worker — relentless when she wants to be — and in essence a fun, kind person who never lost her soul in being an excellent attorney.”

Born and raised in the Tri-Cities, Cynthia Jones grew up in a blue-collar working-class family where she was the first to graduate from high school. In her early years, she was taught that work was more important than school. In her words: “Work and a paycheck is what you learned to do.” But she also quickly learned that growing up in a working-class family by no means placed a limitation on intellectual power as long as you applied yourself. The root of her essence was derived from her family, especially her proud father, who had the opportunity to see his baby girl go further in her career than he ever thought possible for any of his children. 

Following the “work hard” mentality she acquired from her parents and grandparents, she worked fulltime in the evenings while attending Seattle Central Community College. She later transferred to the University of Washington where, in 2001, she obtained double degrees in Editorial Journalism and Political Science with a minor in Women’s Studies. 

Before the legal career lightning bolt hit Cynthia, journalism and politics predominated her pathway. She spent several years as a legislative correspondent, including a period at the Spokesman-Review newspaper, reporting on politicians in Olympia and the legislation they advocated. This experience provided her insight into how laws were crafted and implemented. Knowing the impact these laws had on her community, she quickly realized that the power to change rested with a career in law. Consequently, she returned to school to advance her education. 

Cynthia graduated cum laude from Seattle University School of Law in 2006. As a law student, she integrated her journalistic roots with her legal education, serving as Communications Director of the Student Bar Association and Editor of Prolific Reporter, a publication that covered topics ranging from Supreme Court decisions to student activism.

Well before graduating from law school, Cynthia’s passion for public interest advocacy soared in her writings. She served as lead writer for a book-length judicial training manual and resource guide for the Gender and Justice Commission of the Washington State Courts, entitled Sexual Orientation and the Law. She conducted extensive research and drafted sections of the amicus brief for the same-sex marriage case then pending before our State Supreme Court. As an ACLU intern, she drafted memoranda of law on civil rights.

All of this prepared her well for her first legal position as a law clerk for the Honorable Charles W. Johnson, Washington State Supreme Court. Justice Johnson noted that he hired her “not only for her academic prowess and commitment to student organizations, but also because of her already established dedication to public service.” He added that she clearly fit into his “best and brightest” classification of law clerks. 

Cynthia’s first venture into private practice tremendously expanded her legal skills. Within her first three years she prevailed solo in a challenging fraud jury trial. (We all know how hard it is to prove the nine elements of fraud! You do know there are nine elements, right?) Not only was the trial a challenge, but the circumstances also made it nearly impossible. The trial, which began on December 29, 2008, was transferred from Seattle to the Regional Justice Center in Kent and took place during a horrible snowstorm, creating travel challenges and compounding the existing stress each day. While this case proved to be a bear, it was only the first of Cynthia’s many successes as a litigator before she ventured out on her own. 

Since October 2010, Cynthia has managed her own practice, Jones Legal Group, and specializes as an appellate and trial court practitioner in both criminal and civil matters. She has extensive experience writing and arguing matters before the Ninth Circuit, Washington Supreme Court, and U.S. District Court. In preparing this article, I had numerous conversations with other judges and lawyers about her skills as a lawyer. She was uniformly praised as an “outstanding lawyer,” with an “encyclopedic knowledge of the law.” She was referred to as “THE attorney to consult on appellate issues,” and “a clear front runner for an appellate judge position.” She was also repeatedly described as “incredibly kind” and “generously giving of her time.”

So now you know Cynthia comes from a humble background, is incredibly bright, and possesses extraordinary writing skills. Yet this provides only a small glimpse of who she is as a person. Her activism in getting people involved and her willingness to work side by side with volunteers are legendary. She is a natural leader and has given countless hours to the King County Bar Association (KCBA) in various roles over the years, including Trustee of the Executive Committee, Chair of the KCBA Appellate Practice Section, Co-Chair of the KCBA Annual Judicial Reception, and Elected Trustee of the KCBA Young Lawyer Division, among others. In addition to her work for KCBA, Cynthia has dedicated numerous hours to the William L. Dwyer Inn of Court, where she mentored a stream of attorneys and served in various leadership positions, all with a passion for the betterment of the bar.

As a federal judge, I am keenly aware of Cynthia’s work for our Court and the Federal Bar Association (FBA). While holding a variety of executive positions with the FBA, she has been a change agent in a host of areas. Her leadership in revamping the bar’s nominations process to increase diversity is but one of many examples of her success. 

Cynthia has also been described as an incredible hostess, adept at bringing diverse individuals together and making everyone feel welcome in her home. What you may not know about Cynthia (and for which her friends have sworn me to secrecy) is that she has a wonderful voice, has written songs, and is an avid bird watcher on weekends. I guess we will have to trust her friends, the birds, and history on her singing skills! A word of advice on one other category: never get into a debate with her about vintage Christmas movies or music. Rumor has it she celebrates Christmas each year for nearly 90 days and celebrates the holiday classics the entire time!

A profile on Cynthia would be incomplete without addressing her unyielding dedication to mentoring other lawyers and students. Mo Hamoudi, an attorney with the Federal Public Defender, shared that: “She has an unmatched, generous spirit and makes herself available to anyone and everyone seeking guidance.“ Karen Orehoski, her friend of fifteen years and law office mate, described Cynthia as a wonderful mentor in her life and one who goes out of her way to mentor others — she even managed to keep a strong contingent throughout the pandemic, maintaining strong relationships with scores of mentees despite the many restrictions. Christine Sohn, a second-year Seattle University law student and Cynthia’s most recent mentee, noted that “Cynthia’s ability to give dedicated and individualized attention to her mentees is absolutely inspiring. She is the kind of mentor that every law student wants to have on their side; she is the kind of mentor that every law student should aspire to be in the future.”

When not practicing law, volunteering, or mentoring, Cynthia continues to pursue her passion for writing. She obtained a Master of Fine Arts in Creative Writing from Antioch University, Los Angeles in 2018. She pursues her writing with zeal and is very close to publishing an in-depth book on the Hanford Nuclear Reservation. 

What I know and have repeatedly heard in preparing this article was best summarized by former King County Superior Court Judge Paris Kallas: “I think she is about what we want from attorneys in the bar. She cares about the bar, the profession, mentorship, and improving these concepts for all.” 

With the day-to-day challenges we face in the legal profession, we should be thankful we have Cynthia Jones in our community. Growing up, she never dreamed she could be a lawyer or have achieved the successes she has enjoyed. But, luckily for us, her roots were strong. Her parents and grandparents taught her the real meaning of hard work, helping others, and understanding people. Those are the underpinnings of a great lawyer in my book. If you didn’t know Cynthia Jones before, now you do. 

The Honorable Richard A. Jones has been a United States District Court Judge in Seattle since his appointment to the federal bench in 2007. Previously, he served as a King County Superior Court Judge for over 13 years. Additional information about Judge Jones is available at the website for the United States District Court for the Western District of Washington: https://www.wawd.uscourts.gov/judges/jones-bio.

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