Lawrence K. Karlton, who arrived in Sacramento while in the Army and stayed to become a federal judge whose rulings aimed to help people who needed it the most, died Saturday night at age 80.
Retired from the federal court for the Eastern District of California at the end of September, Karlton died at his home on the Garden Highway from a heart valve problem he had dealt with for several years. His wife, Sue Karlton, and daughter, Emily Williams, were with him when he died.
Karlton left private practice in 1976 when then-Gov. Jerry Brown appointed him to the Sacramento Superior Court. He was nominated for the Eastern District bench by President Jimmy Carter and confirmed in 1979. He retired in the fall of 2014.
Karlton’s written legal opinions on mental health care for inmates, amnesty for undocumented immigrants, and preservation of the environment stand as significant influences on key issues.
William B. Shubb, the longest-serving federal judge sitting on the Sacramento-based Eastern District bench, said Sunday that Karlton’s dedication to the law was contagious.
“I first witnessed his passion when he and I were opposing counsel on a case in federal court,” Shubb recalled. “Back then, it was a passion for his client’s cause. But he never lost that passion. As a judge, it was transformed into a passion for getting it right. He instilled it in everybody that worked with him, other judges and his law clerks particularly.”
Dale A. Drozd, a U. S. magistrate judge in Sacramento and the third person to serve as a Karlton law clerk, said Sunday that 10 days ago he had visited his mentor, who was at home on hospice.
“We had a long talk about a lot of things,” Drozd said with a bittersweet chuckle. “He asked me to bring him a copy of the Supreme Court’s decision on same sex marriage. He wanted to read it. So I did. I’m sure he was pleased. That was Larry Karlton.”