Originally published in the September 2008 issue.
Author: Michael Goodwin
Fred Karasov was in the middle of his law school career, and was still unsure of what he wanted to do with his degree. Over lunch one day, a friend suggested he consider a career as a prosecutor. “It was like a light bulb went off in my head,” said Karasov, recently appointed a district court judge in the Fourth Judicial District after 26 years as a prosecutor. The idea of going into criminal law “was a perfect fit” since he was working his way through law school as a senior deputy sheriff with the Hennepin County Sheriff’s Office and he had a master’s degree in criminal justice. Not long after that lunch, he landed a job as a law clerk in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office and was hired as a prosecutor in that office after passing the bar exam in 1983.
A native of Golden Valley, Karasov earned his bachelor’s degree from the University of Minnesota and his master’s degree from Northeastern University in Boston before earning his law degree from William Mitchell College of Law. He lives in Minneapolis with his wife, Cathy, and has a daughter and four step-children. In his spare time, he enjoys reading, running, traveling, and visiting with friends and family. He has also coached and judged in various moot court and mock trial programs as well as coached youth soccer, softball, and wrestling.
Karasov served in a variety of capacities in the Hennepin County Attorney’s Office. After starting out in the juvenile division, he later worked as part of the child abuse prosecution team and eventually rose to the level of senior attorney. He has also served as managing attorney in the Juvenile Prosecution Division and as a supervisor in the Child Protection Section. At the time of his appointment to the bench in February 2008, he was prosecuting violent crimes and serving as senior attorney for all sexual assault cases. For four years, he served as the office’s director of policy and training where his primary responsibility was training law enforcement officers in Hennepin County.
Karasov said he loved his job as a prosecutor because he enjoyed handling criminal cases, working with victims and witnesses, and serving the public. Being a judge allows him to stay in the courtroom and to continue his public service career. “I think I can make a contribution in a different way,” he said.
Throughout his career, Karasov has made contributions both inside and outside the courtroom. He has been involved in numerous teaching and training programs throughout the state and country. He has also been a frequent lecturer and presenter on evidence, child abuse, and sexual assault issues, and he has taught trial advocacy courses at William Mitchell College of Law. In addition, he has published manuals on child abuse prosecution and sexual assault prosecution for the Minnesota County Attorneys Association.
He said his teaching and publishing has helped keep him current on the law and improve his own skills as an attorney. “The best way to learn a topic is by researching the subject, preparing the lessons, and teaching it,” he said.
Karasov also has a long record of military service. He first served in the Minnesota Air National Guard from 1972 to1976. From 1988 to 2000, he was an assistant judge advocate in the Judge Advocate General’s Corps with the 34th Infantry Division of the Minnesota Army National Guard. Since then, he has served as a military judge. Karasov’s military service took him to Kosovo during 2003-04, where he served as the deputy command judge advocate and worked on issues related to proper expenditure of money for military purposes. In February 2009, he will be deployed to Baghdad, where he will be chief of military justice.
Karasov’s career took another turn when he was appointed to the bench in February 2008. He said he has a lot of people to thank for his success, including the people with whom he has worked with during his career. “I’ve been lucky to have worked with and for good people and I would not have gotten where I am today without their support, encouragement, and advice.”
Karasov said that being a judge allows him to serve justice in a different way than he did as a prosecutor. He said that he wants people to feel like they have been treated fairly and respectfully in his courtroom, even if they do not agree with the way he rules on an issue. “I want to do my part to increase public confidence in the justice system,” he said. “I want everyone who walks into my courtroom to believe that justice has been done, that I listened respectfully, and that I tried my best to make an informed decision. I believe that I can influence the way people perceive the system by the way that I act.”
Further, he said that it is important for judges to take time to make a decision if they need to, but also not to cause unnecessary delay to the legal process. “You’ve got to have the courage to make the best decision and then not dwell on it or agonize over it,” he said.
Like any judge, he expects that the attorneys that appear before him will be well-prepared and will present sound, succinct, and cogent arguments. “I expect the same things of lawyers that I expect of myself,” he said.
Looking back on his career as a prosecutor, Karasov has never regretted taking his friend’s advice and he is looking forward to his new role. “Being a prosecutor is the best of a lot of worlds, and part of me will miss it, but being a judge is a great job in a different way, and I am looking forward to this new opportunity.”