Ithaca, N.Y. — Kristine Shaw was bringing her newborn son, Nathan, home from the hospital when she decided to change her life’s course.
That was 21 years ago.
Today, Shaw is a criminal defense attorney in Ithaca, an advocate for causes as diverse as LGBT and environmental rights, and, with her campaign for the position of Ithaca city court judge, a first-time political candidate.
Shaw has received endorsement from the Ithaca city Democratic Committee and a recommendation from its ad hoc judicial screening committee, which looked at five other candidates. She’ll face interim Judge Seth Peacock and attorney Richard Wallace in an election on Sept. 9 for the seat.
“I never imagined ever running for any kind of political office,” Shaw said.
Shaw grew up near San Francisco. She spent the decade before Nathan’s birth working in retail management, supervising stores like The Gap, Eddie Bauer, and Coach.
Shaw “dabbled” in college right after high school but didn’t complete a degree program.
“I guess I just didn’t have a lot of direction at the time,” Shaw said.
These positions required Shaw to move around, from Washington, D.C., to Palo Alto, Calif.
But then Shaw decided to start a family with her partner at the time. Shaw went through a medically assisted pregnancy, something she didn’t expect she would go through.
“I’m a lesbian, and I didn’t know for a number of years if I was ever going to have children,” Shaw said.
The pregnancy and the day of Nathan’s birth in September 1992 refocused her views on where she wanted her life headed.
Leaving the hospital with Nathan for the first time, she saw a person smoking a cigarette standing near her car.
“It’s just something as little as that,” Shaw said, that changed her perspective on the world.
“I thought, oh my goodness, these are little infantile lungs, and the world is a scary and dangerous place,” she said.
“I know it sounds very trite and kind of cliché. But when I brought him home, I thought, I do not want to work to bring money into shareholders’ pockets anymore.”
Shaw moved to Rochester in 1993. Around this time, she began to take classes at Monroe Community College.
Shaw split up with her partner later while attending college. This left Shaw a single mother, watching Nathan while attending school and working part-time.
She met Sue Martin, her current partner and spouse, and her daughter Devin in 1996. Martin and Shaw married in 2011.
After receiving her associate’s degree, she transferred to SUNY Brockport, where she graduated in 1996 with a bachelor’s in Social Work.
While in Rochester, Shaw also worked at the Learning Disabilities Association until 1998, where she worked on employment accessibility for people with disabilities.
Shaw had never been to Ithaca before she brought Sue and Nathan to visit Cornell Law School.
But after the trip, the city was an “immediate fit” for the family.
“In Rochester I felt like oftentimes I was walking into a school as the first lesbian parent they’d ever met at that time,” Shaw said.
“Ithaca fit with my progressive viewpoints.”
From Cornell Law School and onwards, Shaw’s progressive politics have formed her career.
The summer after her first year, she worked with the Tompkins County Human Rights Commission on race, gender, and disability issues.
From 2000 to 2002, she worked with the law school’s Gender, Sexuality and Family project, which studies the issues surrounding family law and LGBTQ rights with the help of legal scholars from around the world.
“Being a part of [the LGBTQ] community, you’re aware of the fact that the world isn’t always a fair place,” Shaw said.
In 2002, Shaw formed her own private practice, which got her involved with the assigned counsel program in Tompkins County. Assigned counsel programs provide free legal counsel to defendants who cannot provide an attorney.
Beyond her practice, Shaw has gotten involved with myriad legal issues in both the city and town of Ithaca and Tompkins County. She spent three years as a defense counsel on the Ithaca Community Treatment Court, as well as work with all of the Tompkins County specialty courts.
After 12 years as an attorney and social worker in New York state, Shaw is attempting political office with the race for city court judge.
Shaw said that, after all she has worked for in Ithaca, now seemed the best time to run for office.
“I was looking at things in my life at that point of time. The timing and everything was right,” Shaw said.
“It seemed like a logical next step.”