Joyce Ann Karlin (born January 5, 1951) is an American lawyer and politician. She served as both a federal prosecutor and a Los Angeles County Superior Court judge. She is most notorious for having sentenced the Soon Ja Du merchant who shot Latasha Harlins in the back of the head to only five years' probation and 400 hours of community service, with no jail time. The sentence was widely condemned, including by the LA County District Attorney and black community leaders in Los Angeles, and is often cited as a catalyst for the 1992 Los Angeles riots.
Early life and education
Karlin was born in Caracas, Venezuela. Her father was a wealthy movie studio executive who was president of Warner Bros. International. During her childhood, Karlin lived in several countries including Italy, Germany and Argentina. Her family moved to Chicago. Karlin received a degree from Loyola University Chicago School of Law in 1974.
Karlin was employed by defense attorneys in Chicago and Los Angeles. She served as an assistant United States Attorney in Los Angeles. She presided over the case of former Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) agent Darnell Garcia.
Karlin became a Superior Court judge in 1991 and that year, she presided over the controversial voluntary manslaughter case involving the death of Latasha Harlins. Karlin's light sentencing was met with outrage and protest from the African-American community. It is the opinion of some historians that the decision fueled the racial unrest the black community was already feeling in the aftermath of the Rodney King beating and possibly contributed to the 1992 Los Angeles riots. The Los Angeles County District Attorney issued a "blanket affidavit policy", that disallowed Karlin from judging felony cases "involving violent crimes." In 1992, an effort to recall Karlin failed when she prevailed in the election primary. Karlin was elected in spring 1992 to California's Superior Court. She received 51% of the vote, defeating four other candidates.
In 1997, Karlin retired from her position as a judge. She was later elected to the Manhattan Beach, California city council for eight years and in 2002 served a rotation as mayor, per the system used for Manhattan Beach.