March 28, 2020

Lawyer and Activist Nancy Lee Aspaturian, 60

For Nancy Lee Aspaturian, being a social justice warrior was not just a job, it was a calling. Aspaturian, who died Sept. 5 after a battle with cancer, was fiercely committed to helping those around her. She was 60.

Aspaturian’s work included advocating for the foster children she championed as training director and supervising attorney for the Children’s Law Center of California (CLCC); mentoring lawyers there; serving as justice deputy for Los Angeles County Supervisor Sheila Kuehl; and representing the clients she advocated for as a public defender. 

Aspaturian was born Nov. 30, 1958, in Geneva, Switzerland (where she was delivered, she liked to remind everyone, by the same doctor who delivered actress Sophia Loren’s son), but grew up in State College, Pa. She moved to Los Angeles to attend UCLA, before going on to earn her law degree at Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco. After graduation, she moved back to Southern California, where she spent six years as a public defender for Los Angeles County and the state of California. She kept in touch with many of those she defended, including a man who has spent the past two decades on San Quentin’s death row.

Aspaturian met her wife, Laurie Aronoff, while at UCLA. They had two daughters, Emma and Lilia. The family joined IKAR when Emma became a bat mitzvah, and they quickly became part of the community. In a written statement, IKAR described Aspaturian as “a person you wanted to be around, able to pick you up with a quick joke or engage in a deep conversation about the state of the world.” 

“She was a person you wanted to be around, able to pick you up with a quick joke or engage in a deep conversation about the state of the world.”— IKAR

Beth Edelstein, a friend, told the Journal that Aspaturian was someone who was “full of joy and constantly surprised by life. She was open to a childlike wonder” while remaining pragmatic. 

Supervisor Kuehl’s office issued a statement saying it was a privilege to work with Aspaturian. One of her signature acts was overseeing the county’s reconsideration of opening a new women’s jail in Mira Loma. 

“Most women in L.A. County custody are the primary custodial parents of children,” the statement read, “and Nancy could not understand why anyone thought it made sense to locate a women’s jail in a distant part of the County where their children’s visits would be difficult, if not impossible.”   

Aspaturian is remembered as an incredible cook, for her love of music, particularly the Beatles, and her love of animals, including her 25-year-old cat. 

In addition to her wife and daughters, Aspaturian is survived by her mother, Suzanne; her sister Heidi; a niece, Rachael; and sister-in-law, Sharon. 

Aspaturian’s funeral was held Sept. 8 at Mount Sinai Memorial in Hollywood.