Award winning Dallas attorney and advocate, Cassandra Hernandez, is no stranger when it comes to overcoming challenges, helping others fulfill their American dream and live their best quality of life. Recently, Cassandra won the 2023 Pete Torres Jr Community Service award from the State Bar of Texas and has been voted by her peers as a 2023 Best Lawyers in Dallas by D Magazine. Now, Cassandra is taking on the political scene, adding her name to the ballot for Texas House of Representatives District 115.
Her story begins from modest roots in the farming community of Hereford, Texas - just 48 miles southwest of Amarillo. Cassandra was raised in a small two-bedroom house by her single mom and her grandparents, including numerous extended family members. When she was a child, her father committed suicide. In the face of such tragedy, her family rallied around her and her mother. Cassandra credits her large family support system and upbringing by her grandparents as playing a significant role in her life and contributing to her passion for the community.
Cassandra relocated with her mother to the North Texas area shortly after her father’s death, a decision driven by her mother’s desire to provide Cassandra with better opportunities for her future. It was the transition from a predominately rural public school system to an urban district that plays a role in Cassandra's passion for public education. Initially, she struggled academically. There was one teacher; Mrs. Fielding, Cassandra’s English teacher, who played a pivotal role in pushing Cassandra to reach her potential. Cassandra said Ms. Fielding “knew I had it in me and she gave me tough love to put a fire in me and to have the motivation to catch up [to my peers]” It was this “fire” that would propel Cassandra to graduate high school a year early in 2003 and earn a scholarship to attend college.
When it came time to decide what career she wanted to pursue, Cassandra’s adoptive father Juan Hernandez strongly influenced Cassandra’s choice. Juan, a dedicated trial attorney, represented vulnerable communities, especially in worker safety cases. These cases and the experiences of the people he represented that shaped her views on justice and fairness. “I admire him deeply and why I aspired to become a trial lawyer like him,” recounts Cassandra. While growing up, Cassandra watched her bring home file folders into the house and see him scribbling away on his legal pad. “Working on worker safety case trials . . . really opened my eyes to vulnerable communities and how ugly that people can be to individuals depending upon their economic status and immigration status. “
Cassandra eventually ended up attending the University of Houston where she received a Bachelors in business. While in Houston, Cassandra was exposed to empowered women in politics. She was inspired by trailblazing women like Mayor Annise Parker (read LSPP’s feature on Mayor Parker here!) and Texas State Senator Sylvia Garcia. After she graduated, Cassandra worked in the legal field for a short time, still unsure about becoming a lawyer. However, after scoring well on the LSAT and joining a law program, she discovered her passion for immigration law.
This passion opened up a unique opportunity when Cassandra’s professor, impressed by her academic performance, invited her to join a new clinic focused on human trafficking. This experience allowed her to research the epidemic of sex trafficking in massage parlors and assist the District Attorney’s office in related sting operations. “I really helped someone and helped to make a change,” she said. After completing law school, she returned to her family's firm with one condition: she wanted to establish an immigration department, a wish her adoptive father gladly supported.
But before she took the bar exam, Cassandra faced yet another major obstacle. While finishing up law school, Cassandra had to be hospitalized after surviving an incident of domestic violence from her then-partner. As a result, Cassandra had to quickly pick up and move to Dallas where she began studying for the bar exam. As a result of the abuse she suffered, Cassandra experienced panic attacks and anxiety during her immediate recovery. Cassandra also began attending behavioral and physical therapy, something that helped shape her perspective and resilience. “During physical therapy, I had to go to a neurologist. I suffered a traumatic brain injury and still have side effects to this day” recounts Hernandez. She ultimately passed the bar exam and became licensed to practice law.
As she was preparing to swear-in to the state bar, Cassandra was informed that the charges against her abuser were dropped by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. This decision, despite extensive evidence and her willingness to testify, was a devastating blow. The day she was sworn in to practice in Texas was a mix of emotions: relief and triumph overshadowed by the DA's decision. The support of her family, especially her mother, also a survivor of domestic violence, played a pivotal role in helping her navigate this challenging time. The pictures taken that day with her parents beside her serves as a powerful reminder of her strength and the adversities she overcame, in spite of charges being dropped against her abuser. These experiences have profoundly influenced her perspective on the legal system and defined her career path. She is committed to advocating for those who cannot do so for themselves, drawing inspiration from her mother, adopted father, and grandparents.
As a Latina, Cassandra feels a strong connection to her community and a responsibility to defy the adverse stereotypes associated with her identity. And as a survivor of domestic violence, Cassandra is also determined to defy the negative statistics defining the lives of survivors and inspire others to rise above their circumstances. Cassandra emphasizes the importance of providing resources to communities, especially women of color, who often face institutional challenges and stereotypes like these. Cassandra recognizes the essential role organizations play in supporting those in need when government bodies fall short. She works with grounds like TOP, SICKOFITTX, and The Women’s Caucus for the Texas Trial Lawyers association which champion the rights of communities that are marginalized and vulnerable.
Then, in the wake of the COVID pandemic, Cassandra decided she was prepared to run for office. Cassandra's decision to run for office was catalyzed by the apparent dysfunction and lack of leadership during the 2020 pandemic and the electric grid crisis in Texas. Watching local groups and individuals step up and provide assistance where elected officials failed inspired her to seek change from within the system. Her decision to run was solidified when Texas State Representative, Victoria Neave, a fellow activist and attorney, reached out and encouraged her to take the leap into politics.
Cassandra is currently running for Texas House of Representatives, District 115—a district located in North Texas. Prior to her campaign, Cassandra was actively involved in the Democratic party, supporting other candidates through blockwalking and fundraising. She understands the challenges faced by the Democratic party in terms of resources and emphasizes the importance of fundraising and providing adequate compensation to staff. Cassandra's past role as an ethics commissioner for the City of Dallas has instilled in her the importance of trust and integrity in public service.
Cassandra hopes to build upon the foundation set by Julie Johnson in HD115. If she were to be elected, Cassandra intends to champion essential bills such as the "Live Well Texas" bill, a bipartisan initiative for Medicaid expansion which she believes is of paramount importance to Texas. As an Everytown Fellow, she's committed to championing gun control, advocating against the idea that more guns in schools are the solution, and ensuring that firearms are securely stored to prevent accidents or misuse. She also emphasizes the importance of adequately funding public schools to ensure all children, regardless of their background, receive a high-quality education. Another pressing issue for Cassandra is the state's power grid in light of recent power failures across the state in the face of extreme weather conditions.
Specifically for HD115, the fentanyl crisis is a significant concern with cities like Carrollton being heavily affected. Cassandra applauds the efforts of the DA's office, especially the fentanyl mapping initiative, which identifies the drug's sources and hotspots for better enforcement.
Cassandra has already started networking and liaising with legislators, preparing herself to hit the ground running. She's acted as the representative even before her official tenure, ensuring she understands her constituents' needs and concerns. Her campaign kickoff was attended by over 100 people, and she's already secured endorsements from influential figures like Dallas County Commissioner Andy Sommerman, Former Chair of the House Democratic Caucus Representative Chris Turner, and Former DISD Superintendent Dr. Michael Hinojosa to name a few.
Cassandra's vision for her office, both in District 115 and in Austin, is to be diverse and multilingual. She intends to have staff who speak multiple languages, ensuring accessibility for all constituents. The essence of her campaign is to provide representation that is genuinely reflective of the diverse community she serves. She also plans to regularly host town halls to ensure she's accessible and attuned to the needs of her community. She firmly believes in mentorship and plans to advise those looking to make a difference.
You can learn more about Cassandra Hernandez at www.cassandrafortexas.com and on social media @casfortexas.