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San Juan Superior Court Judge Linde found dead in Hawaii; had been snorkeling with a friend

John Linde
John Linde's appointment and, later, election as Superior Court judge was a historic event in San Juan County history. Top photo: Linde, his wife, Carol, their son, Brian, and other family members await his swearing in, Feb. 8, 2008, in the San Juan County Superior Court. Linde had been appointed to the bench two months earlier by Gov. Christine Gregoire. Second photo: Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock congratulated Linde and presented him with his judge's robe. Third photo: Linde is greeted by well-wishers after his swearing-in ceremony. Fourth photo: Three judges in the family — Judge Linde is flanked by his sister, King County District Court Judge Barbara Linde; and brother-in-law, King County Superior Court Judge Gregory P. Canova.
— image credit: Journal file photos / Richard Walker

Editor's note: This story was originally posted at 9 p.m. Thursday. It is being updated Friday to include comments and new information.

Superior Court Judge John O. Linde has died.

Linde, 62, was found Thursday morning floating in a South Kohala bay about 75 yards off the Big Island of Hawaii, where he and his wife, Carol, were vacationing with friends John and Becky Bird.

The news was announced late afternoon Thursday to local media by Sheriff Bill Cumming. All local media agreed to hold the story pending notification of family members, particularly the judge's adult children, Brian and Kristen. Cumming said family members had been notified by 9 p.m.

Cause of death had not been determined Thursday, Cumming said. Police in Hawaii are investigating the death.

KITV Channel 4 in Honolulu reported late Thursday that Linde had been snorkeling with a friend in Anaeho'omalu Bay. The friend returned to shore between 9:30 a.m. and 10 a.m., police told KITV.

A charter snorkeling boat found Linde's body about 75 yards off shore, police told KITV. The people on the charter boat took Linde to shore and performed CPR.

Emergency personnel took Linde to North Hawaii Community Hospital, where he was pronounced dead at 11:20 a.m.

Local Web sites describe "A-Bay" as a "postcard-perfect span of white sand ... the first beach after nearly 30 miles of coastline characterized almost exclusively by the inky blackness of Kohala's lava flows." Diving, snorkeling, swimming and windsurfing are described as "above average" experiences.

"A-bay is usually calm," a reader wrote on KITV's Web site. "But anything can happen in the ocean as everyone who lives here knows."

Cumming said he knew Linde for 30 years.

"The news was so shocking, it's hard to find your next breath," Cumming said. "This community has lost a real steady person, someone who was committed to making the community a healthy place — from his law practice, from his years of working with young people in this community. He was really well liked and he will be really missed. His family is so well respected. Basically, we're trying to catch our breath."

Cumming said Linde's wife, Carol, asked that the family's privacy be respected. "Right now, it's such a shock to the family. They are just beginning to deal with the tragedy," Cumming said.

Linde was a private practice attorney in Friday Harbor when Gov. Christine Gregoire appointed him to the Superior Court in December 2007. He won election to a full four-year term in November the next year. He was sworn in as San Juan County's first elected Superior Court Judge on New Year's Eve, 2008.

For Linde, the appointment was the perfect bookend for a distinguished law career: At one time, he was the youngest District Court judge in Washington state. Now, he was the first judge of the San Juan County Superior Court; the judgeship was created when the Legislature separated the Island County/San Juan County judicial district into two districts.

His becoming a Superior Court judge was significant in other ways: His sister, Barbara Linde, is a King County District Court judge. Her husband, Gregory P. Canova, is a King County Superior Court judge.

"As a resident of Friday Harbor for 35 years, John has a history with San Juan County that will be important in this new position," Gregoire said when she appointed Linde to the bench. "I’m pleased to appoint someone to the bench with the depth of professional and personal experience that John has in that area."

Other judges were equally praiseworthy.

“I am delighted with Gov. Gregoire’s appointment of John Linde,” Island County Superior Court Judge Alan Hancock said at the time. “She has made a wise and thoughtful choice. The people of San Juan County deserve the very best, and John is the very best.”

Judge Vickie I. Churchill, who with Hancock served as judge of the Island and San Juan County Judicial District, said at the time, “John Linde is an excellent choice for this historic occasion, the first judge for San Juan County Superior Court. John will serve the citizens of San Juan County with honor and distinction for many years to come.”

Linde earned a bachelor of arts in business administration from the University of Washington in 1969 and his juris doctorate from Willamette University College of Law in 1972. He was admitted to the Washington State Bar in 1972 and the Oregon State Bar in 2002.

He was a San Juan County District Court judge for 21 years, and also served as court commissioner and Superior Court judge pro tem. He was principal in the Law Offices of John O. Linde in Friday Harbor beginning in 1987, practicing general law with emphasis on real estate, land use and permitting, estate planning, wills and trusts, guardianship, probate, family law, small business formation, and civil and criminal litigation. He sold the firm to Skinner and Saar when he became Superior Court judge.

Linde’s community involvement included service on the boards of the Friday Harbor Athletic Association, Inter Island Medical Center, San Juan Community Theatre, San Juan Golf and Country Club, and San Juan Little League.

"I am shocked and saddened to hear of the loss of our friend and community member who has been such a huge part of our lives in Friday Harbor," Ellen Johnson e-mailed. "My thoughts and prayers go out to the family. Another loss we didn't need. A fine man."

Jill Urbach e-mailed, "I am just in shock, like everyone else. He was a fine man."

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