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It was a courtroom battle of the exes involving two formerly wedded judges Wednesday in an ethics hearing that could cost Hennepin County District Judge Patricia Kerr Karasov the office she has held for 16 years.
Karasov, acting as her own defense lawyer, went on the offensive against former husband and fellow Hennepin County District Judge Fred Karasov, whom she had on the witness stand. She argues he and his wife, Cathy Karasov, helped cook up the ethics complaint that she illegally lived outside her district and lied about it.
The Judges Karasov verbally sparred about current and former partners and lovers -- sometimes testily disagreeing on such issues as whether he resented his child support helping to pay for her lake home, whether, when they were together, he condoned stealing cable TV service, and whether, at their daughter's bat mitzvah, he wanted his new wife to play the role of the girl's mother.
Patricia Karasov, who referred to her ex as "Judge Karasov," opened her questions with, "You did not come to my swearing in?" He said, "Correct."
The state Board on Judicial Standards accuses Patricia Karasov of violating state law by living outside her district in a Chisago City lake home, improperly taking a homestead tax exemption on her Edina townhouse and impeding the investigation into her conduct. Karasov said she always maintained a Hennepin County residence.
The Karasovs married in 1988 and separated in 1994, shortly after Patricia Karasov won election to the bench. They divorced in 1996.
She asked him about the free cable the family got in a new home. "I called the cable company, and they found an illegal box in the attic. ... You were very angry that I had done that because we had to pay for the TV," she said.
Fred Karasov, who remained calm even though he appeared tense and borderline angry at times, said, "I don't recall that."
She also asked:
"When you learned I had purchased a cabin on a lake, you were angry about my use of the child support? When Danielle went tubing on the lake, you were upset about my use of child support? When Danielle and her boyfriend had a really great time snowmobiling with me, you were upset about my use of child support?"
Fred Karasov said, no, but "I never thought I should have to pay you $1,500 a month when I had her three days a week."
A loaded gun?
When board attorney Doug Kelley questioned Fred Karasov, the judge recalled a "revelation" when he heard from his daughters that another woman stayed often with Patricia Karasov in Edina.
Patricia Karasov and Cathy Christman bought the lake home in February 2007.
Fred Karasov said step-daughter Emily Knutson called him, concerned because her mother wanted to rent a room for $100 a month in Knutson's Golden Valley house to maintain a county address.
"I said, 'That's illegal. She can't just rent a room and not stay there,'" Fred Karasov testified.
Patricia Karasov heard in September 2009 about the board's interest in her residence. On Oct. 1, she signed a lease to live with daughter Danielle Karasov in a two-bedroom apartment. To sleep on her air mattress there, the judge paid $25 a month in rent while her daughter and roommate paid $430 each.
Kelley has repeatedly pointed to a Kentucky Supreme Court ruling that says a judge must live in her district, not maintain a "mere naked legal residence."
Karasov interrupted Kelley's questioning of her ex-husband many times with objections.
She noted she was given full custody of their daughter and had the divorce record sealed to "spare us" revealing the reason in public. She then purported to reveal the reason, saying, "You refused to put Dani in the back seat with a seat belt."
Fred Karasov responded, "Not true."
The chairman of the three-person panel hearing the case, retired Winona County Judge Lawrence Collins, asked how those details were relevant. Patricia Karasov said they would explain why Danielle would lie to her father.
She also asked her ex whether he had left a loaded gun where teenagers could get it. When he said no, she stared at him silently. She asked whether he tried to have his current wife act as Danielle Karasov's "mother" at her bat mitzvah. Fred Karasov said no.
Fred Karasov testified he learned of the investigation from Hennepin County District Judge Dan Mabley in 2009. He said Mabley warned him his daughters would be called to testify.
Patricia Karasov claims Mabley, a member of the Board on Judicial Standards, should have recused himself in her case because of an "intimate relationship" they had 35 years ago.
Another touchy point involved tomatoes and basil on bruschetta Patricia Karasov brought to her grandson's birthday party in August 2008. Fred Karasov recalled the toasted appetizer, but not all the ingredients. Cathy Karasov said Tuesday that Patricia Karasov told her the tomatoes and basil came from her Chisago City garden. Patricia Karasov's daughters said their mother doesn't garden.
Kelley's private investigator, Rodney Haggard, testified that in the fall of 2008, three out of four of Patricia Karasov's credit card purchases were in Chisago County. They dropped to less than half her purchases in November 2009 -- a month after the board began investigating.
She won reelection in 2000 and 2006. Gov. Tim Pawlenty appointed Fred Karasov in 2008. She will testify in her defense Thursday.
The panel hearing the case unanimously rejected her motion Wednesday to dismiss the charges. The board will make its findings to the state Supreme Court, which has final say.
Rochelle Olson • 612-673-1747