City Prosecutor for the City of Spokane, died at 12:01 a.m. on March 15, 2014. Her sudden death has been a tremendous shock for everyone who knew and loved her.
She was born in Arlington, Virginia on October 10, 1957. Ellen was the eldest sister, the third of eight O’Hara children arriving within a 12-year span to Thomas J. and Mary Anne O’Hara.
Our family moved first to Santa Clara, CA in 1962 and then Encino, California in 1966 as our attorney patriarch rose through the ranks into executive positions at Lockheed.
Ellen was eight years old when our family moved to a sprawling “fixer-upper” rambler in Encino. It was set on a spacious acre, the ideal home for such a rambunctious brood. Huge oak trees provided ample shade, and their branches offered up the ideal launching points for sturdy rope swings. Soon, a pool was added in the backyard, and we’d spend endless afternoons swimming, playing games, fighting and then making up. At 6:00 p.m. sharp, we’d hear our mother’s call: “Dinnnnerrrr!” We’d line up and await our turn to load up our plates with our nightly meal. Mom and Dad would hover about serving us while they unwound with their evening cocktails. And then it was back outside for more revelry-bike riding, kick-the-can, basketball, and then relaxing in the “tv room” with bowls of ice cream.
Ellen’s strong and assertive personality was evident from the very start, as was her keen intellect. She was always a voracious reader and excelled in her studies over the years. She took up photography in high school, and soon became an avid shutterbug. She also enjoyed creating pottery and anything and everything she cooked was utterly delicious.
She attended Louisville High School in Woodland Hills, CA and then Birmingham High School in Van Nuys, CA. She earned her A.B. in philosophy from the University of California at Berkeley in 1980, and her JD in 1986 from Case Western Reserve School of Law in Cleveland, Ohio.
After passing the California State Bar in 1987, Ellen joined was hired as Deputy District Attorney in the Tulare County, CA District Attorney’s Office. Over the ensuing 12 years, she handled prosecutions of every category of criminal offense from misdemeanors to Special Circumstance murder. She helped establish and then supervise the office’s Family Protection Division responsible for Domestic Violence, Sexual Assault and Child Molestation Cases. It was directly due to her efforts that the division’s conviction rate on those difficult cases became one of the highest in the state. She also helped establish the Child Abuse Response Team (CART), a multi-disciplinary team designed to reduce trauma to child victims and improve the evidence collection in child abuse cases. In light of all her exemplary work, in 1996, she was recognized as Prosecutor of the Year in Tulare County.
In 1999, she entered into private practice handling criminal defense, family law and conflict counsel for juvenile and dependency cases, and returned to handling felony prosecutions for the Monterey County, CA, District Attorney’s Office in late 2000.
Ellen relocated to Spokane in August of 2001 and took the reins as Assistant City attorney. Her initial focus was defending the Spokane Police Department in civil suits and state torts. Over the years, her practice expanded to include cases involving other city departments and employees.
In December 2012, Ellen was hired as City Prosecutor for the City of Spokane. She was supremely happy in her new role and an instrumental member of the working group that recently established Spokane’s Community Court.
If you asked Ellen, she would have cited her most impressive achievement as the birth of her daughter, Lilliana Mary O’Hara in 1998. Ellen was immensely proud of Lillie’s recent successes with her high school debate club, and was cheering her on from afar as Lillie competed this past weekend at the Forensics WIAA State Tournament in Tacoma.
Exceptional daughter, proud mother, strongest sister, adored aunt, beloved niece, respected colleague and steadfast friend, Ellen was always the one we all would turn to first. Now, collectively, we’ll carry on, and keep the memories of her alive, forever.
A celebration of her life will take place on Saturday, March 22 at the Double Tree by Hilton, Spokane City Center, 322 N. Spokane Falls Court from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Come wearing colorful and casual attire per Ellen’s request.
These are lyrics from Van Morrison’s “River of Time.” It’s the song our mother was listening to as she slipped away, peacefully, with Ellen at her side in 2001. We thought it would be the perfect closing to this chronicle of Ellen’s life.
“Brother of mine. Sister of mine. Meet me, on the river of time.”
Lillie’s addendum: I asked my aunt to let me write a foot-note-ish thingy for the end of this. I wanted to say that my mom was the most amazing person in the world and my heart is shattered by losing her. I love my mom and know that wherever she is she’s proud of not only me, but everyone who knew her, even if they do bring us way too much food. I also would like to copy my aunt’s idea from above and quote my Mom’s recent favorite song: “I came in like a Wrecking Ball.” Please visit Ellen’s on-line memorial page at www.hennesseyfuneralhomes.com to leave a message of remembrance.