Hennepin County District Judge Patricia Kerr Karasov has been censured and suspended without pay for six months, raising questions about the validity of decisions she made in cases while living outside her judicial district -- including that of a man convicted of attempted murder.
The suspension was twice the length recommended in March by the state Board on Judicial Standards, which held a three-day hearing on the judge that dug into personal information about her and her family, including ex-husband Fred Karasov, who is also a Hennepin County district judge.
Karasov's suspension was effective Wednesday after the Minnesota Supreme Court issued a 39-page opinion that found her responsible for "very serious misconduct" while living full time in a Chisago County lake home from July to September 2009.
The state Constitution requires judges to live in the district they serve.
Karasov, 60, also was found to have hindered the investigation by failing to cooperate.
"Judge Karasov created the appearance of impropriety and did not act in a manner that promotes public confidence in the integrity of the judiciary, because she acted in a manner suggesting that constitutional requirements do not apply to her," the court stated.
Karasov referred questions Wednesday to her attorney, David Herr, who said the judge was "disappointed and dismayed." He said the court didn't take into account the fact that she bought the Chisago City home to be close to her ailing father, who later died, and other factors.
"There's no suggestion that she shirked her responsibilities," Herr said. "She was in court every day she was supposed to be performing her duties, with the diligence that she has shown in 17 years on the bench."
Karasov, who was elected to serve in the Fourth Judicial District in 1995, made $130,000 last year. While she is serving her suspension, retired Dakota County District Judge Leslie Metzen will handle her cases.
Earlier rulings challenged
According to the judicial standards board, Karasov mostly lived in Chisago City from April 2007 until the fall of 2009, when she began living part time in her daughter's Minneapolis apartment. The board said Karasov justified withholding information about her residences by saying a man had been stalking her, but she refused to give the man's name or other details.
In June, board attorney Doug Kelley asked Minnesota Attorney General Lori Swanson to consider whether her judgeship was valid when she lived outside her district. The attorney general's office said it would wait for the Supreme Court's decision before deciding whether to proceed. The court's ruling could mean further investigation.
But according to a 1995 legal opinion issued by the attorney general's office, a judge who moves out of his or her district would no longer be considered a judge "even if he remained in possession of the office and continued to perform the functions for which he was elected."
However, the judge's official acts likely would remain valid, the opinion said.
At least two attorneys have already filed challenges to orders issued by Karasov during or after the time she was living in Chisago City.
In June, attorney Mark Nyvold filed a petition for a new trial on behalf of his client, Ahmed Ali, who is serving 18 years in prison after he was convicted in February 2010 of attempted murder and assault in a trial presided over by Karasov.
Nyvold requested a new trial on behalf of Ali because Karasov "disqualified herself from being a judge" by moving outside her district, making his trial invalid. Nyvold contends that since Karasov violated the constitutional residency requirement, "she was not a district judge" during Ali's trial and sentencing under the board's findings. A hearing will be held later this month.
Karasov's punishment is the same as that received by former Dakota County District Judge Timothy Blakely, who was suspended in 2009 and lost his bid for re-election in 2010. Blakely referred more than 20 parties in his courtroom to his own attorney, who gave him a $63,503 discount on costs associated with his divorce.
Cynthia Gray, director of the Center for Judicial Ethics at the American Judicature Society, said Karasov's punishment was significant, given that most judges are only reprimanded or censured. Last year, seven judges nationwide were removed from office, while 18 others resigned or retired in lieu of discipline. Seventeen were suspended without pay.
"This is more than a slap on the wrist," Gray said.
Chief Hennepin County District Judge James Swenson said he expects Karasov to return promptly to her post after her suspension. She now lives in Hennepin County.
"Pat was a very hardworking judge for 17 years," he said. "She'll be coming back, it looks like in six months, and we'll assume she will be working every bit as hard as she did before."
Abby Simons • 612-673-4921