This obituary is part of a series about people who have died in the coronavirus pandemic. Read about others here.
Lillian E. Blancas, a widely respected lawyer in El Paso, always wanted to be a judge. She was expected to achieve her goal on Saturday in a runoff election, in which she was the favorite.
Ms. Blancas died at a hospital in the city on Monday. She was 47. The cause was Covid-19, her brother Moises Blancas said.
Ms. Blancas, was an assistant district attorney and public defender for nearly a decade before she opened her own law firm in 2019, came in first in a field of three on Nov. 3 in the race for an open seat in El Paso’s municipal court. Because she did not win a majority of the votes, the race went to an automatic runoff.
Her death came too late to remove her name from the ballot. If she wins, the City Council would appoint a replacement.
Ms. Blancas was known as much for her tireless work on the part of indigent defendants as she was for her wit and charm, inside and outside the courtroom.
Among her many friends, who called her Lila, was her opponent in the runoff, Enrique A. Holguin, who met her in 2013 when he joined the district attorney’s office. She helped mentor him, and later took care of his dog when he went on trips.
“She was a straight shooter, very professional, but always polite,” Mr. Holguin said. “When we were on opposite sides of a case, we never locked horns.”
Lillian Elena Blancas was born in El Paso on May 2, 1973 to Victor Blancas and Maria Elena (Montelongo) Blancas, immigrants from Mexico who met while working at a meatpacking plant in El Paso. Her father later became a plumber, while her mother stayed at home to raise the children.
In addition to her brother Moises, she is survived by her mother, another brother, Victor, and a sister, Gabby. Her father died in 2014.
Neither of her parents went to college, and it was important to them that their children received a good education. All four siblings graduated from college; Lillian received a degree in political science from the University of Texas at El Paso in 2002.
Rather than go directly to law school, she spent several years teaching middle school science in El Paso. “The kids just flocked to her, because she had this no-holds-barred personality,” said Christina Klaes, a fellow teacher and friend.
Ms. Blancas left teaching in 2006 and graduated three years later from the Texas Tech University School of Law. She quickly joined the El Paso district attorney’s office. It was part of her plan: gain experience as a prosecutor, switch to being a public defender, hang out her own shingle and run for a judicial seat.
As a public defender, she handled capital murder cases, and defended poor, often very young clients, said Heather Hall, a lawyer in the public defender’s office. In her spare time, Ms. Blancas mentored lawyers who wanted to work with clients who were indigent or had mental-health issues.
“Lila had this silver tongue as a lawyer,” said Amanda Enriquez, a lawyer and friend, “but she was full of empathy and compassion.”
Ms. Blancas tested positive for Covid on Halloween; three days later, she won 40 percent of the vote in the election, sending her and Mr. Holguin to a runoff. The disease kept her from actively campaigning. She entered the hospital twice before being sent to intensive care, where she died.
El Paso County has been hit hard by the pandemic, recording 10,813 total cases per 100,000 residents as of Wednesday, more than twice the statewide rate, while the city’s intensive care units were running at 97 percent capacity.
After the election, Mr. Holguin, her opponent, texted her his congratulations. “You’re going to have a head start, because I have Covid,” Mr. Holguin said she responded.
“I was ready to lose this election,” he said, “but I wasn’t ready to lose a friend.”