Posted January 24, 20248:31 pm
It was destiny that brought Jessica Baggett to Lorain County.
She could have run for judge or moved on to the corporate world, but she was here because she was needed by her family and her community, her friend and recently retired magistrate Charlita Anderson-White said.
Baggett, 57, died Jan. 15. A cause of death was not immediately available. She was the managing attorney of the Legal Aid Society of Cleveland in Lorain County, a practicing attorney for 30 years and a prior Domestic Relations Court Juvenile Division magistrate.
But her friends and colleagues remembered her on Tuesday for her gregarious nature and wit, a personality known to light up courtrooms and meeting rooms alike, and her abundance of love for her young son and the community she served.
Originally from the Dayton area, Baggett moved to Lorain County more than two decades ago, her Legal Aid Society colleague Tonya Whitsett said.
Whitsett, managing attorney for the nonprofit’s family practice group, knew Baggett for 30 years, having met at a regional training conference in the mid-1990s — seated on opposing sides of the Legal Aid-led mock trial all those years ago.
She remembered Baggett talked about her mother seeking Legal Aid when she was a child and always appreciated that people were there to help her family.
“Her mom went to Legal Aid and the folks there treated her like a person,” Whitsett said. “They saw the whole person, she wasn’t a legal problem, she was an individual, a mother with young children who had an issue and needed assistance — she needed somebody else to advocate for her and help her navigate the court system and work through a problem. So that always stuck with (Baggett).”
Baggett was also there to help her family, Whitsett remembered, as Baggett did not immediately attend law school, but instead took a year off to work in a factory to help support her mother and younger siblings.
The advocacy her mother received from the Legal Aid attorneys who helped her sparked the same servitude in Baggett, who had been a part of the nonprofit’s family law practice since 2007.
She was a zealous advocate for survivors of domestic violence and was well-respected in the court, Whitsett said.
Legal Aid Deputy Director for Advocacy Tom Mlakar oversaw Baggett’s work for several years, noting the wealth of knowledge and experience she brought to the office from her time as a domestic relations court magistrate.
“Jessica’s compassion and love of people and her ability to communicate was a perfect fit for our clients and that community,” Mlakar said, adding that she thrived in being an ambassador for Legal Aid in Lorain County.
She took the time to treat everyone around her with respect, always asking how colleagues' days were or checking in on their family, Whitsett said, and counted her neighbors as family and was the go-to person for planning parties.
“She was able to make friends really easily,” Whitsett said.
When Baggett moved to Elyria, that became her home.
Mlakar said the relationships she built in the community — from United Way to the Lorain County Bar Association to Blessing House and other nonprofits that she worked with and served on governing boards — helped serve the county well.
Baggett was sworn in as president of the Lorain County Bar Association in 2022. At her swearing-in ceremony that June, Baggett reminded those in attendance of the responsibility they had to help when and where they could.
“I believe this is why we spent three years in law school, suffered through the bar exam, to help someone out every day,” Baggett said at the 2022 ceremony.
It was a task she took to heart, current Lorain County Bar Association President Giovanna Scaletta-Bremke said, noting her predecessor’s commitment to helping the county’s less fortunate residents.
She was an ever-smiling face in the courthouse, Scaletta-Bremke said.
“It’s rare for an attorney to have such a positive reputation among their colleagues, but Jessica certainly did and she had dedicated a lot of years to the Bar Association as well,” Scaletta-Bremke said. “… She definitely exemplified what we like to see in attorneys and giving back to the community.”
But to those who knew Baggett personally, they knew her son, David, 10, to have her heart.
It was Baggett’s dream to become a mother, Scaletta-Bremke and others said. She adopted David when he was only a few days old through a foster-to-adopt program.
She’d lost her infant son, Garrett Carter, about a decade prior, Anderson-White said, and everyone was so happy when she finally got to be a mom again.
“When she adopted David, that was the happiest day of her life,” Whitsett said. “He knew she wanted to be a mom and she had so much love to give.”
It was just the two of them, Anderson-White said, and she was not sure who was luckier they found one another — David or Baggett.
She gave David the best life she could until she got sick, Anderson-White said.
“To imagine that destiny took her away, the universe, God, whoever took her away from this special relationship she had with this little boy is heartbreaking,” Anderson-White said. “But we know that God and the world of friends and family are all looking out for him and one thing she asked is that we make sure that David is taken care of — so this community will rally behind him and her family and make sure that he has everything he needs. That was her only prayer.”
It all comes down to celebrating her love and generosity, Anderson-White said. From her famous German chocolate cake to trips taken and books read together, she was what her friends and community needed, she said, and they were there for her.
“All of her friends loved her,” Anderson-White said. “It all boils down to us celebrating her for her love and her generosity.”
Visitation will be at the Full Gospel Faith Fellowship Church, where Baggett was an active member, at 10 a.m. Saturday, with the service at 12 p.m.
Source: The Chronicle - Attorney Jessica Baggett remembered as well-respected advocate, mother