Edmonds judge: The opioid epidemic is real – and needs work

‘Those who have means can mostly avoid getting caught up in the criminal justice system’
By Brian Soergel | Oct 25, 2018
Photo by: Brian Soergel Edmonds Municipal Court Judge Linda Coburn

Edmonds Municipal Court Judge Linda Coburn has a ground-level view of opioid crisis with Snohomish County in its grip.

“It is an underlying factor to many criminal behaviors,” said Coburn, who received the Judge of the Year Award Oct. 18 from the Asian Bar Association of Washington.

“Many people paint a stereotypical image of who a drug addict is. The reality is that many, if not most, addicts began through legal prescriptions. The difference is those who have means can mostly avoid getting caught up in the criminal justice system as compared to those who do not.”

Talk to any medical experts in the field related to this type of addiction, Coburn said, and you’ll learn that, for many, simply having a desire to get clean and a drug counselor’s help is never enough. The drug’s physical effects are such that it needs to be treated medically, with medication, like an everyday health issue.

But as a judge, Coburn has limited options to address the escalating opioid crisis.

“Jail is one of them,” she said, “and I have sent people to jail for committing crimes, for not meeting with their drug counselor, for not staying sober.”

But without access to medical treatment, the door in and out of jail can quickly become a revolving one.

“It’s an expensive, no-win situation for our community and the defendant,” Coburn said. “Unfortunately, so many health providers do not accept Apple Health (Medicaid) or provide health-care coverage on a sliding scale. So many health providers choose not to make themselves eligible to prescribe the various medications that help drug-addicted individuals.”

Coburn said she sees many defendants reaching a point where they are ready for treatment, who desperately want to turn their lives around, but find a lack of inpatient treatment facilities.

“I think most everyone can agree that we want defendants to be rehabilitated. We want them clean and sober, educated and employed. We want them to be able to be contributing members of society. That is the goal.”

The challenge is getting there.

“We need to better coordinate our efforts so that the people who need it most can have both the nudge from the judge, supervision from probation, addiction-abuse counseling, and medical services from a health provider,” Coburn said. “We must keep striving to make that happen.”

Judge Coburn’s background

Washington Supreme Court Associate Justice Mary Yu presented Coburn with her Judge of the Year award.

“Judge Coburn is so deserving of this recognition for her extraordinary work as a judge and as a member of our community,” Yu said. “ She is intelligent, energetic, compassionate, fair, witty. A faithful mentor to aspiring lawyers and judges. Intense. And most importantly, she is courageous and a truth teller.”

Coburn has served on the governing board of the District and Municipal Court Judges Association (DMCJA) since 2016, and has been a member of the Washington State Minority and Justice Commission since 2015, the same year she took the bench in Edmonds Municipal Court to fill the unexpired term of Douglas Fair, who moved to the Snohomish County District Court in Everett.

Last November, she ran unopposed for a new four-year term.

She is currently chair of the Legal Financial Obligation (LFO) Calculator Pilot Project as part of the LFO Consortium. She also is a member of the Jury Diversity Task Force and the Pretrial Reform Task Force.

As a member of the DMCJA Diversity Committee, she regularly presents at the biennial pro tempore training event co-sponsored by the Washington State Bar Association.

Prior to becoming a judge, Coburn was a felony attorney for the Snohomish County Public Defender Association. She previously clerked for Stephen J. Dwyer at the Washington State Court of Appeals and George N. Bowden in Snohomish County Superior Court.

Coburn earned a bachelor’s from the University of Washington, a master’s from Ohio University and graduated cum laude from Seattle University Law School.

Volleyball fanatic

Coburn, a 26-year Edmonds resident, is married and raised two boys, one graduating from Edmonds-Woodway High School and the other from Meadowdale High School.

As anyone who has followed Coburn throughout her career knows, Coburn is a passionate volleyball player. When not in court, she’s on it.

She’s a member of the Snohomish County Board of Volleyball Officials, and was recently selected to officiate at the state volleyball championship tournament for 3A and 4A high schools to be held in Yakima next month.

Coburn plays in local leagues and tournaments and officiates high school volleyball matches. She started the women’s fours league in Seattle and brought it to the City of Edmonds several years ago.

“I am so happy the City’s parks and recreation department was interested in picking it up. I still play in it to this day. I also organize many master’s-age volleyball teams that play in local tournaments and also travel to play nationally and internationally.

“My team just returned this past week from St. George, Utah, where we played in the annual Huntsman World Senior Games. While my teams have medaled in the past, we weren’t so fortunate this year. However, we still had a blast.”

Coburn’s other hobby is one that might seem natural, if you consider her profession. She’s a baseball umpire.

“It started when my kids were little, and none of the parents wanted to volunteer,” she said. “That meant the coaches would have had to umpire, and they were already volunteering their time coaching. So I decided to jump in and give it a go.”

Coburn was so nervous she read the rulebook cover to cover.

She needn’t have worried. She soon joined the Northwest Baseball Umpires Association and umpired for them for two years. She was forced to stop, however, as she could not make it work with her busy court schedule.

“However, I continue to this day to volunteer to umpire Little League whenever they are short-handed,” Coburn said. “And if I’m available.”

For information on opioid resources, go to snohomishoverdoseprevention.com.


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