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Judge Dies of Injuries Suffered in Fall While Inspecting Building

December 28, 1994

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) _ A judge known for venturing outside the courtroom to see things for himself died after falling down an elevator shaft while inspecting a condemned building.

Jackson County Circuit Judge H. Michael Coburn, 52, died on Tuesday, four days after the 12-foot fall.

The city had wanted to demolish the unfinished building, but Coburn had blocked that to give the owner time to clean up the place and improve security. He was inspecting it Friday to see if the owner had complied.

He and the owner, Thomas Wrenn, were examining the darkened building with city employees when Coburn got ahead of the group. He was using a flashlight to look at the ceiling when he fell down the shaft.

″He was very inquisitive,″ said fellow Judge John Borron, a friend. He said Coburn liked a firsthand look at a place so he could ″make up his own mind if further grace should be granted or if the door should be slammed.″

Coburn once took a jury in a murder trial to a gas station where the killing took place.

In 1988, he led an inspection team that examined former jail space at a courthouse to see if it could be used by the court system. The three members of the team accidentally locked themselves on a unused floor of the building.

Coburn used a heavy metal bar to break through a wall into a stairwell.

″For my first jailbreak, I considered it a rather good job,″ he said at the time.

″Coburn was willing to make decisions. He was a decisive judge,″ said John Black, former president of the Missouri Bar.

″Lay people don’t always understand how hard it can be to listen ... and ask the hard questions and say who is right and who is wrong. Judge Coburn was able to make decisions. He listened well and then was able to pull the trigger.″

Coburn was appointed to the bench in 1981 and had been retained by voters three times.