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Judge John C. Coughenour Biography

Judge John C. Coughenour was raised in the Midwest and earned his law degree from the University of Iowa in 1966. After a brief stint on the law faculty at the University of Washington, he was a litigation partner at the Seattle firm of Bogle & Gates, before being nominated by President Reagan for the federal bench in 1981.

Judge Coughenour served as Chief Judge of the District from 1998 to 2004. During his time on the bench, he has presided over numerous high-profile trials and delivered several controversial decisions. His notable cases include a bank fraud trial involving the Montana Freemen, an anti-government group that had a three-month standoff with the FBI in 1996; the case of Michael Forwell, the British national sentenced to 15 years in 1996 for attempting to smuggle 72 tons of marijuana into Washington; and the case of Ahmed Ressam, the so-called “Millennium Bomber” who was convicted of attempting to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on January 1, 2000. In 2006, Judge Coughenour assumed senior status, though he continues to maintain a full case load in that capacity. 

In addition to his work on the court, Judge Coughenour taught trial advocacy at the University of Washington School of Law for over forty years. His former law clerks created an endowment in his name to provide continued support for the school’s trial advocacy program. He also regularly travels internationally to participate in judicial reform activities with judges and lawyers, and hosts delegations in Seattle regarding the same. 

Judge Coughenour served as Chair of the Ninth Circuit working groups on Jury Instructions and Gender Bias, and he is past President of the Ninth Circuit District Judges’ Association.