Karen Jo Koonan

Area of Practice: Jury Consulting
Location: Oakland

Karen Jo grew up in New York City but eventually made it out to Venice, California and started school at UCLA. While majoring in dance at UCLA, Karen Jo learned about the experience of friends in the civil rights movement in the South. In response to their call for help, Karen Jo dropped out of UCAL and traveled to Mississippi. She stayed there for seven months, registering voters, organizing demonstrations and teaching literacy and dance. Mississippi taught Karen Jo valuable lessons on community organizing and that society’s problems were much deeper than the issue of a few racists in the South.

She eventually went back to UCLA in 1966 and in 1967 she moved to San Francisco to organize against the War in Vietnam. Karen Jo participated in the Steering Committee of Stop the Draft Week, helping to organize the legal defense team for the people who were arrested in the port and later for the Oakland 7 conspiracy trial. Karen Jo is often referred to as “No. 8 of the Oakland 7.”

Soon after the Stop the Draft Week, she was invited to participate in the first student delegation to visit North Vietnam through the Students for a Democratic Society (SDS). Though the delegation was turned back because of the increased danger caused by the US intensification of the bombing of North Vietnam, she had the opportunity to visit Cambodia where Karen Jo observed the dance of the Vietnamese National Liberation Front. She was inspired to become engaged in antiwar dance theater on her return which incorporated her love of dance with the anti war movement.

Karen Jo helped lead the struggle for the admission of legal workers as full NLG members in the early 1970’s and organized the first three official Guild delegations to Cuba between 1970-72.

In 1970, Karen Jo, moved to Los Angeles where she helped start the Bar Sinister Law Collective. Several years later she took a break from legal work to experience work as a factory worker and machinist where she gained more insight into the struggles of the working class.

In 1987, back in the Bay Area, Karen Jo started work with the National Jury Project as a trial consultant. Since then she has worked more than 2,500 cases, including a number of high profile cases, primarily in the area of employment discrimination, police abuse, civil rights, criminal defense, and personal injury. She worked with Tony Serra and the rest of the legal team in People v. Hooty Croy, a case involving a Native American charged with killing a police officer. Her first death penalty case, it ended in an acquittal. She has also assisted in other death penalty cases, large employment and consumer class actions, , the Earth First/Judy Bari case against the FBI, and toxic tort and product defect cases.

In the 1990’s, Karen Jo, served as a board member for the NLG Bay Area Chapter and in 1999 she was elected the first non-lawyer National President of the Guild. A few years after completing her national term she was elected president of the local chapter. Through the Guild, Karen Jo mentors young leaders and actively participates in demonstrations and other political events.