Loni Coombs: Law, love and live television

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Loni Coombs was 19 years old and the youngest woman to graduate from BYU in 1984 with a psychology major and music minor. The young graduate hoped to have a large family, raise many children and become a piano instructor in her home, but her personal path would prove quite different.

Coombs grew up in Southern California as the third of seven adopted children. Her parents, Carol Jean and Robert Coombs, adopted children from China, Tonga, the Philippines and several states in the United States. Loni Coombs experienced diversity through her mixed-race siblings and her own half-Filipino ethnicity.

She demonstrated maturity and high learning aptitude as a 16-year-old BYU student. She didn’t ever graduate from high school because she already met the requirements to attend BYU during her junior year.

Carol Jean Coombs said her daughter accomplished everything she wanted in high school. “She had done band, choir, cheerleading, student government, plays, yearbook and Homecoming,” she said. “She felt as though there was nothing left to achieve and didn’t want to waste a year not being challenged.”

Transitioning from a high school located in a Los Angeles suburb to Provo’s private, LDS school, Loni Coombs noted that she definitely felt that she stuck out more. She said it is hard to explain the subtle conscious and unconscious feelings and assumptions that faced her. She knew people looked at her and made assumptions based off skin color without knowing anything about her.

“I was always aware that there were a limited number of other people of color on the BYU campus. At BYU, those assumptions and stereotypes were not necessarily negative. Overall, the students and faculty were welcoming and accepting,” she said.

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Loni Coombs graduated from BYU at age 19 and has a career as a criminal prosecutor, television commentator and host, and news anchor. (Loni Coombs)

Loni Coombs later explained that she felt that she stuck out first because of her youthful appearance and second because of her skin color.

She quickly realized that she loved learning about human thought processes, emotions and actions toward others. Her father, a published author and professor at UCLA, encouraged her to pursue a major in psychology. She also minored in music since she grew up playing piano and had always envisioned herself teaching.

After a few years of attending BYU Loni Coombs began dating Craig Maddux, her older brother’s best friend from back home. The two were married in the Los Angeles temple shortly after.

In her mind, she was on the right track to fulfill her life’s plan to earn her bachelor’s degree, get married in the temple and become a mother.

Loni Coombs discovered that she was pregnant with a baby boy just months after her wedding. Shortly after marriage, however, the newlyweds divorced, and she was left as a single mother. She graduated from BYU that semester and moved home to Southern California to be close to her family.

She considered her future as a young, single mother and knew that to support her family she would have to find a secure career path. “Bottom line, I was the sole financial source for myself and my son,” Loni Coombs said. “I needed a stable career. My dad suggested law because he said it would intellectually stimulate me and open doors.”

Loni Coombs attended Pepperdine Law School and graduated in 1988. She said Pepperdine was more internationally integrated than was BYU. “There were students from all over the world, so I was not an anomaly,” she said.

Loni began her legal career as a criminal prosecutor for the Los Angeles County District Attorney’s Office. Her work covered a range of cases, from murders to sex crimes and DUIs.

“I did all criminal prosecution. I tried every crime in the book, including drugs, assaults, gang thefts, hate crimes, rape, murder, arson, torture and more,” she said.

About 10 years into her career, Loni Coombs received personal recognition from President William Clinton and U.S. Secret Service Director L.J. Bowron for her work on a murder trial of the first female Secret Service agent, Julie Cross, who was killed on the job. The suspect was proven guilty and received the death penalty verdict.

Luanne Robbins, a good friend and coworker of Loni Coombs, said that “Loni is exceptionally bright, she has always demonstrated an incredible work ethic and continually pushes herself to learn more, perform higher and fight for causes that she believes in.”

Loni Coombs was the deputy in charge of the district attorney’s Malibu office by 2001. She worked with high-profile celebrities such as Nicole Richie, Nick Nolte, Kim Delaney and a man who believed he was Meg Ryan’s husband.

Until 2005 Coombs was the head of the district attorney’s hate crime unit in Los Angeles until she remarried and decided to make a career switch.

“I had to make compromises to maintain the relationship,” Coombs said. “I took a leave of absence from the DA’s office. During the down time, I started doing some freelance TV work, which I had been asked to do during my career as a prosecutor. The TV work grew.”

The television work not only grew but launched into a great new career for Loni Coombs. She began appearing regularly on “Dr. Phil” as well as on “The Doctors,” “Dr. Drew on Call,” EXTRA TV, The View and more.

Loni Coombs proved to be an expert and valuable asset as a legal commentator for breaking news trials, including those of OJ Simpson, Mel Gibson, Warren Jeffs, Casey Anthony, George Zimmerman, Phil Spector and Jodi Arias. Her 18 years as a legal prosecutor proved effective.

Coombs earned an AP award after her daily coverage on KTLA.com of the Phil Spector trial. She said her experience gives her a level of expertise that is rare in the TV world.

“Having been a trial attorney, I know how to explain complicated things in a conversational way, how to persuade, how to ask questions and how to paint a picture with words,” she said.

With the release of her first published book, “‘You’re Perfect…’ and Other Lies Parents Tell: The Ugly Truth about Spoiling Your Kids,” Loni Coombs demonstrated her ability to “paint a picture with words.”

She combined her knowledge of psychology and law to write the book after years of prosecuting the crimes of young people while their parents continually tried to step in and save them.

Carol Jean Coombs said she was especially proud of Loni Coombs following her dad’s footsteps with her book release. “Loni’s father wrote and published many academic books,” she said. “Loni and Robert (her dad) were always very close; she admired and respected him immensely. After his passing I felt this was a great way for them to stay connected. I know that Robert would have encouraged her to write and is very proud of her accomplishments.”

Loni Coombs enjoys visiting BYU’s campus during the summer and fall months. She cheers on BYU’s athletics with her husband and loves attending games whenever she can. She reconnected with BYU when her son, Trevor, attended a few years ago.

“When my mom studied at BYU she was really focused on learning and getting her degree quickly,” Trevor Coombs said. “Not that this was a bad thing, but she missed out on a lot of the campus experiences like sports events, parties and BYU traditions. Although I never took her to any parties, we’ve walked around campus, gone to a few games and eaten at some local Provo restaurants to make up for it.”

Loni Coombs enjoys traveling, reading and staying active. She remains a Southern California resident and has recently developed a love for exploring nearby hikes through the Hollywood hills.

She looks forward to spending time with her expanding family, growing her television work and career and possibly writing a few more books about her experiences during her years of practicing law.

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