NOTE: A previous version of this story erroneously stated that Charles Steinberg tested positive for COVID-19 a few weeks before his death. The version below has been updated.
WENATCHEE — Lawyer and two-time Chelan County judicial candidate Charles R. Steinberg died Tuesday after collapsing at his Wenatchee home. He was 55.
Erin McCool, current president of the Chelan-Douglas Bar Association, announced his passing in an email to local attorneys Wednesday. RiverCom dispatch records show an ambulance was dispatched his home address for a cardiac event about 7 p.m. Tuesday.
Steinberg grew up in Shoreline and studied law at Willamette University in Salem, Oregon, before relocating to Wenatchee in 1994. He opened his private practice that year. He twice ran for Chelan County Superior Court judge, in 2012 and 2018, but did not win election.
A memorial letter circulated among friends on Facebook said Steinberg had dealt with severe COVID-19 symptoms for the prior two weeks, but appeared to be on the mend before he died. But Chelan County Coroner Wayne Harris, whose office investigated the death, said the attorney did not have COVID-19 at the time of his passing.
“We were told that he had COVID, so we got the records,” Harris said. The medical records showed Steinberg took a COVID-19 test in the last three to four weeks that was negative for the coronavirus, and a postmortem test ordered by the coroner’s office also showed no presence of the virus.
“There’s no testing that shows he was ever COVID-positive,” Harris said.
Harris says another member of Steinberg’s household did have coronavirus within the last few weeks, and family members initially believed Steinberg had contracted the virus as well. But he said cardiac failure can often have symptoms similar to COVID-19 infection, including shortness of breath, fatigue, and persistent cough.
Steinberg’s death certificate, signed by his physician, will attribute his passing to natural causes, Harris said.
Steinberg was known for doing pro bono work on behalf of religious liberty organizations, including the Northwest Religious Liberty Association, a nonprofit advocacy arm of the Seventh-day Adventist Church to which he belonged. He was vice president of the association for 22 years.
He frequently argued on behalf of churches and institutions challenging civic law on religious-freedom grounds. In 2001, he helped strike down a King County moratorium on the construction of large churches or private schools in rural areas. Last year, he spoke before the Wenatchee City Council seeking to exempt churches from the city’s noise-ordinance prohibition on amplified sound at outdoor events. The exemption was not granted.
Steinberg is survived by his wife Joni, and an adult daughter, Sophia.