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Catherine Rose Lombardo: legal advocate, musician, loving wife

Compassionate legal advocate, musician, loving wife

Catherine Rose Lombardo died at 12:44 p.m. September 18 at her Claremont home, surrounded by her family. She was 54 years old and fought a brave four-year battle against ovarian cancer.

Catherine was a musician from the age of 10, when she started playing the guitar. She earned a bachelor’s degree in classical vocal performance from the University of La Verne, and became a working musician, singing and recording for many years. When she realized that being a musician wasn’t going to support her family, she decided to become a lawyer, returned to ULV and obtained her law degree.

Ms. Lombardo was a local attorney for 27 years, first as a public defender in Rancho Cucamonga and later serving as a judge pro tem in both Los Angeles and San Bernardino counties. She then went on to start her own criminal law practice.

After 24 years as a criminal defense attorney, she opened a personal injury law firm, “Lawyers For the Injured.” Despite her busy career, she wanted to give back to her community of Claremont and found time to serve for seven years as a police commissioner.

She used her law degree to help people, representing tens of thousands of clients during her career. She was an advocate for all types of people, from Hollywood clients, to CEOs, to homeless individuals. She truly believed that lawyers had a duty to help people through compassion and advocacy.

She was honored to become a lead attorney and the first to file a lawsuit against the MGM Grand hotel, site of the October 1, 2017 Mandalay Bay shooting, the deadliest gun-related massacre in modern US history. She sat with hundreds of survivors and became known by victims as one that truly cared about their recovery. She often spent hours talking to her clients in their homes, checking on their wellbeing and being available 24/7 just to talk. Her goals were to seek answers for the victims and to affect change to help prevent a recurrence. 

“The great Catherine Lombardo was not only the nicest attorney I have ever met, but one of the nicest human beings,” said Charlie Minn, producer of One October, a documentary film examining the Las Vegas shooting. “I will forever miss her genuine kindness and overall integrity as a person. She was a true giant in her field and even a bigger one in life.” 

Ms. Lombardo’s work as an attorney also changed California dental laws. In 2016, the Children’s Dental Group in Anaheim infected more than 100 children by exposing them to tainted water during dental procedures. After meeting with parents of children with the first reported cases at Children’s Hospital of Orange County, she was the first attorney to take formal legal action on the suspicious outbreak. She reached out to the media to bring light to the circumstances, saving several children’s lives as they learned of the severe infection.

This multi-plaintiff tort litigation launched by Ms. Lombardo and other joining attorneys caught the attention of the California legislature. It immediately went into session to protect children from possible future harm by creating and enacting an unprecedented new law (Business and Professions Code Section 1601.6) requiring water or other methods used to be sterile or contain recognized disinfecting or antibacterial properties when performing dental procedures that expose dental pulp.

She represented clients all over the country, with a long resume of service and experience. She was even sworn in at the United States Supreme Court by former Chief Justice William Rehnquist. Through it all, she stayed true to herself, serving others with compassion.

“Catherine is the kindest human I’ve ever been blessed to know,” said actor Jeremy London. “Heaven got a true angel. My life will never be the same. I wouldn’t have survived Hollywood without her.”

Ms. Lombardo found her soul mate in 2012, her wife, Claremont Police Chief Shelly Vander Veen. 

“Heaven got a true angel in Catherine Lombardo,” said Ms. Vander Veen. “If Catherine is not in heaven, nobody has a chance!”

Her brother Bill predeceased her.

She leaves behind her father, Michael Lombardo of Claremont; brothers Mike, Joe and baby brother Frank, whom she raised as her own son; nieces Vanessa, Breanna and Isabella; nephews Michael, Daniel, Justin, Tristan and Billy; and her son, Julian. The growing Lombardo family also includes several great nieces and nephews.

A celebration of life will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday, September 28 at Claremont United Church of Christ, 233 Harrison Ave., Claremont.