Hon. Craig D. Karlan (Ret.)


“Every lawsuit is a legal riddle, wrapped in a financial mystery, inside an emotional enigma.”

Judge Craig D. Karlan

Hon. Craig D. Karlan (Ret.) is a trial lawyer’s judge; he is an invaluable asset to trial lawyers, due to his impassioned commitment to studying and mastering every aspect of a jury trial over the past 32 years. Judge Karlan’s expertise is evidenced by a track record of trying countless cases to verdict, both as a litigator and as a judge, in addition to guest lectures he has presented to influential associations including the Consumer Attorneys Association of Los Angeles, the Beverly Hills Bar Association, and the Santa Monica Bar Association on topics such as Opening Statements, Closing Arguments, Cross-Examination, and Expert Witnesses.

Judge Karlan’s passion for jury trials enables him to be an exceptionally effective settlement officer. Having served as a judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, West District, for over 20 years, he approaches all cases with the knowledge and experience gained from presiding over thousands of general jurisdiction civil matters of every imaginable variety, from filing to trial to post-judgment motions. He can quickly gauge the value of a given case, and he has heard and ruled upon hundreds of attorney fee motions, allowing him to ascertain reasonable fees and costs through verdict and even collection.

Judge Karlan’s 20-year judicial career has been defined by exceptional service at the Santa Monica Courthouse. During his 14 years as an Independent Calendar courtroom judge, he handled as many as 730 cases at a given time with unwavering accuracy and efficiency. In addition, he served as the West District Probate Judge for eight years, demonstrating extraordinary acumen while navigating complicated high-net-worth probate cases involving complex financial issues and emotionally charged familial dynamics. After presiding over his first Mandatory Settlement Conference in 2003, Judge Karlan has applied his commitment to facilitating fair and reasonable outcomes to the hundreds of settlement conferences he has handled since then in nearly every type of civil action, including probate and family law. Judge Karlan’s strength as a settlement officer has directly resulted in the resolution of not only his own cases, but also those of his bench colleagues.

In addition to his love for jury trials, Judge Karlan is a lifelong student of game theory and negotiation tactics, further enhancing his ability to settle disputes. While studying at Harvard Law School and as an undergraduate at Yale University, he had the opportunity to learn from esteemed academic luminaries including Professors Thomas Schelling (Nobel Prize winner for having “enhanced our understanding of conflict and cooperation through game-theory analysis”), James Sebenius (Wise Choices), Barry Nalebuff (Thinking Strategically), and Douglas Rae, amongst other distinguished lecturers in this area.

Drawing upon a well-rounded academic foundation in negotiation, strategy, and dispute resolution, Judge Karlan has a unique perspective for resolving litigation. He is extremely familiar with Professor Roger Fisher and his acclaimed book Getting to Yes. As a testament to this fact, Judge Karlan successfully negotiated against students of Professor Fisher in the Williston Negotiation Competition as a 1L at Harvard Law School, demonstrating both tenacity and skill when it comes to negotiating from positions of strength or weakness. Simply put, Judge Karlan’s extensive trial experience, coupled with his innate understanding of game theory and negotiation strategy, allow him to quickly ascertain each case’s “BATNA” – Best Alternative to a Negotiated Agreement.

Judge Karlan is committed to helping you settle your matter.


  • Harvard Law School, Juris Doctorate 1991
  • Yale University, Bachelor of Arts, Phi Beta Kappa, Summa Cum Laude 1988
  • London School of Economics, International Relations 1986 – 1987


Judge of the Los Angeles Superior Court, County of Los Angeles    2003 – 2023
Last Assignment: Civil, I/C Court (Law and Motion/Trials/MSCs), 2009-2023
Previous Assignments: Family Law, Probate, Limited Civil, and Criminal, 2003-2011

Former Committee Assignments: Trial Jurors Committee; Research Attorney/Law Clerk Committee; Security Committee; Grand Jury Committee; Executive Committee, West District Representative; Special Events Committee; Temporary Judge Committee, Vice Chair; Driving Under the Influence Committee, Vice Chair; Alternative Dispute Resolution Committee

Deputy District Attorney, County of Los Angeles   1991 – 2002
Prosecuted: Murder, Domestic Violence, Robbery, Gang, Hate Crimes, Burglary, Grand Theft, Rape, Tax Fraud, Tax Evasion, Money Laundering, Securities Fraud and Insurance Fraud

Lectured on White-Collar Crime within the District Attorney’s office and on Money Laundering for the California District Attorneys’ Association.


Adjunct Professor, Pepperdine University School of Law    2002 – 2012
Courses Taught: “White Collar Crime: Prosecution and Defense,” and “Criminal Trial Preparation.” Topics included mail fraud, wire fraud, grand theft, tax fraud, tax evasion, securities fraud, money laundering, structuring, conspiracy, murder for financial gain and RICO, as well as all aspects of trial preparation.


  • Business and Commercial Contracts
  • Civil Rights
  • Construction Defect
  • Elder Abuse
  • Employment
  • Entertainment
  • Insurance
  • Intellectual Property
  • Landlord-Tenant / Habitability
  • Medical Malpractice
  • Partner/Member Disputes
  • Personal Injury
  • Probate, Estates & Trusts
  • Product Liability
  • Professional Liability
  • Property and Neighbor Disputes
  • Real Estate
  • Wrongful Death


• Will Contests
• Trust Contests
• Breach of Fiduciary Duty
• Elder Abuse
• Real Property Transfers
• Contested Conservatorships
• Contested Guardianships


AYSO, Volunteer Coach/Referee   2004, 2013-2015, 2019
Constitutional Rights Foundation, Volunteer Instructor   2004-2005
4-H/South Youth Services, Volunteer Instructor   2005
Project LEAD (District Attorney’s Office), Volunteer Instructor   1996, 2001-2003


Interests include golf, fitness, writing, movies, cooking, and especially Labradors.

Representative Cases

Wrongful Death

  • Disabled pick-up truck stranded in the slow lane of the 5 Freeway is run into from behind by an 18-wheel truck which did not brake at all.
  • Impaired driver crosses La Cienega into traffic travelling the opposite direction, killing occupant of another vehicle.
  • Stomach staple procedure resulting in death.
  • Failed drug treatment protocol resulting in death.
  • Motor vehicle hits motorcyclist causing his death.
  • Construction worker death relating to sump pump work.
  • Apartment building fire.

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Partner Disputes

  • Joint venture to purchase and renovate residential property.
  • Partnership dispute over distributions and payments relating to a restaurant.
  • Dispute over income and valuation of drug treatment facilities
  • Real Estate partnership with equal voting rights where assets were under water.

Civil Rights

  • Police Officer shoots car-jacking suspect in the back, killing him.
  • Whether school districts could mandate masks during Covid.
  • Whether on-line negative postings constitute protected activity.
  • Whether university failed to accommodate student with special needs.

Breach of Contract

  • Breach of CC&R’s relating to views and construction.
  • Oral agreement to care for significant other for life.
  • Breach of oral loan agreement.
  • Whether a city is a third-party beneficiary of a national sports league’s member agreement.

Property and Neighbor Disputes

  • Common boundary line fence removed and replaced in the wrong location with a less attractive look.
  • Deck built on neighbor’s property.
  • Home improvement without proper Coastal Commission permits.
  • Home built in excess of approved permits.
  • Party house in Bel Air that constantly disturbs the neighbors.
  • New construction results in water flowing onto neighbor’s property.
  • Construction in a violation of CC&R’s.
  • Trees and shrubs constituting a violation of CC&R’s.
  • Easement for access to portion of property that can’t otherwise be easily accessed.
  • Tenant raped after landlord warned of dangerous people living near property.
  • Manager accused of videotaping female tenant.

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Real Estate

  • Inverse Condemnation involving a burst cIty main line.
  • Residential property illegally sold by a non-owner of the property.
  • Whether broker was entitled to commission after property was taken off the market
  • Whether buyer was required to forfeit escrow deposit after withdrawing from purchase agreement.

Professional Negligence

  • Whether attorney improperly drafted settlement agreement.
  • Whether certified public accountant is liable for errors in LLC’s tax returns.
  • Whether attorney breached the standard of care in seeking the return of a quarantined dog.

Products Liability

  • Circuit board in HVAC system caught fire causing home to be filled with smoke.
  • Prescribed medication resulted in permanent health issues that were known but not disclosed.
  • Whether braking mechanism was defective.


  • Coverage issues relating to Woolsey Fire which destroyed home.
  • Whether Jewelry stolen from home was covered.
  • Whether water damage causing spalling to marble floors was covered.
  • Whether damage to roof was covered under policy.


  • Whether an arbitration provision as to one film applies as to a subsequent film.
  • Failure to repay bridge loan.
  • Entitlement to distributions from ownership of song rights.
  • Whether a computer game maker infringed on another game maker’s rights to a certain video game.

Elder Abuse

  • Elder adult disappears from care facility, only to be found dead after being left outside all night.
  • Entire life savings misappropriated by care giver.
  • Sale of gold coins to an octogenarian widower at an inflated price.

Construction Defect

  • Improper installation of windows resulting in water intrusion and mold.
  • Improper installation of sewage line in Marina Del Rey.
  • Lability for improper installation of plumbing upgrades throughout building.


  • Lability for improper installation of plumbing upgrades throughout building.
  • Breach of top-level domain acquisition agreement.
  • Breach of oral agreement for enhancement to on-line dating application.
  • Breach of oral agreement for enhancement to on-line dating application.

Medical Malpractice

  • Breach of oral agreement for enhancement to on-line dating application.
  • Unsuccessful cervical disc replacement resulting in a multiple-level fusion.
  • Medical battery involving unauthorized removal of uterus.
  • Improper insertion of catheter in brain.
  • Unsuccessful prostate surgery resulting in incontinence.
  • Post-surgical infection that wasn’t properly diagnosed or treated.

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“I was fortunate to try Judge Karlan’s first case when he was assigned to the Santa Monica Courthouse. It was a contentious commercial unlawful detainer trial. Judge Karlan brought to both counsel’s attention a fact we both overlooked and which resulted in settlement. I was also before Judge Karlan over the years on other matters. Judge Karlan mediated a case that another judge brought to him, which also involved extremely difficult clients (and in that case, an equally difficult opposing counsel). I was amazed that Judge Karlan was able to settle the case. Judge Karlan is smart as a whip, incredibly insightful, and anticipates issues. He did so with an incredible judicial temperament that was always respectful to all parties and counsel. I would wholeheartedly recommend Judge Karlan for any matter, including complex litigation, entertainment, intellectual property and real estate matters.”

“I had the privilege of appearing before Judge Karlan and felt the benefit of his organized, well-reasoned and respectful approach not only to applying the law but also to running an efficient courtroom (with a volume of 500+ cases pre-pandemic and possibly as many as 800 post-pandemic), all to the satisfaction of the lofty goals of administration of justice.

Judge Karlan brings the finest legal mind, unmatched real world experience, an extraordinary work ethic and the finest people skills imaginable to mediation. I say that based upon my recent mediation experience with him. His use of his experience and talents resulted in the settlement of an extremely difficult and emotional dispute.”

Very impressed with the experience as well as the effectiveness of our mediator