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About Judge Jay Karahan

Early Influences

Judge Karahan was born and raised in Tampa Florida.  He was very active in high school music activities and student government, and  worked daily in his father’s unairconditioned warehouse to earn money for college.  He attended Florida State University and graduated with an honors degree in Music Theory and a certificate in vocal performance. During college he worked at two jobs to support himself, including one working in the kitchen of a sorority house where two young woman were slain by the infamous Ted Bundy.  This tragic incident was a turning point for Judge Karahan, and he determined to become a lawyer in order to prosecute the perpetrators of similar crimes.  He became familiar with the law first as an intern for a year at the Hillsborough County State’s Attorney’s Office in Tampa, and then matriculated into South Texas College of Law in Houston in 1979.  Judge Karahan attended law classes at night and interned during the day at the Harris County District Attorney’s Office in the intake and grand jury divisions.  He graduated with a Doctor of Jurisprudence in 1983.

Legal Career

From 1983 to 1987, Judge Karahan served as an Assistant District Attorney for Harris County, Texas.  He was a member of the District Attorney’s child abuse committee and specialized in child abuse prosecutions, a difficult but vital assignment.  In 1987, the U.S. Attorney General appointed him an Assistant United States Attorney for the Southern District of Texas.   As a federal prosecutor he served in the Major Offender Division, Bank Fraud Task Force, and as a district coordinator for child exploitation investigations and prosecutions.  While there he successfully prosecuted two FBI Top Ten fugitives for an interstate kidnapping and robbery spree, for which he received the U.S. Attorney General’s Special Achievement Award.  As both a state and federal prosecutor Judge Karahan tried to jury verdict over 100 serious felony cases. In 1988, Judge Karahan was certified as a Criminal Law Specialist by the Texas Board of Legal Specialization, and he has maintained that certification ever since.

Judge Karahan left government practice in 1991 to serve as litigation and compliance counsel for a Fortune 100 company based in Houston  He moved to private practice in 1995 to open the white-collar defense firm of Jay Karahan & Associates, where he specialized in state and federal criminal trials and appeals, mediations, and corporate compliance and investigations. As a defender he tried an additional 30 serious felony jury trials.

Judge Karahan was elected to judicial office in November 2002 and was sworn in as Judge of Harris County Criminal Court-at-Law No. 8 on January 1, 2003. He was re-elected to that office 3 more times and served until December 31, 2018, when he retired from active judicial service.

Teaching and Other Activities


From 1987 to 1997, Judge Karahan taught criminal trial advocacy as an Adjunct Professor of Law at South Texas College of Law. He has served as Chair of the Administration of Justice Committee, and as Chair of the Criminal Law and Procedure Section, both of the Houston Bar Association. He has also served as vice-president and director of the Harris County Criminal Lawyer’s Association.

Judge Karahan speaks on criminal justice issues and concerns at CLE seminars, at colleges and universities locally and abroad, at Houston area public and private schools and in the community, with a particular emphasis on domestic violence.  Judge Karahan has also lectured and published articles on the use of expert witnesses concerning the reliability of eyewitness testimony in criminal cases, as well as law practice in the Harris County Criminal-Courts-at-Law.  Judge Karahan also serves as visiting judge for moot court and mock trial competitions at South Texas College of Law.  He spent additional time with youthful offenders, especially 17-19 year old adult probationers who meet with him for mentoring and compliance evaluations.

During his judicial career, Judge Karahan presided in one of Harris County’s SOBER (Saving Ourselves by Education and Recovery) Courts for DWI repeat offenders and Court 8 was one of five pilot courts in Harris County to introduce this successful program.  The SOBER Court program was established in January, 2008 by the Harris County Criminal Courts-at-Law and the Texas Legislature to focus on intervention and rehabilitation of DWI repeat offenders with alcohol and substance abuse problems. These sentencing practices in SOBER court reduce probationer recidivism (re-offending) and increase successful probations in our courts.  Judge Karahan’s sentencing practices were designed to motivate and empower offenders to return to integrity with the community and to live productive, law-abiding lives.  Judge Karahan was a committee member of the Indigent Defense Committee which is now exploring the feasibility for this program in Harris County.  He also served on the Jury Use Committee and the SOBER Courts Committee.

Judge Karahan is a member of St. Martin’s Episcopal Church where he serves as a chalice bearer, a lay reader, a member of the Shepherd’s Guild, and sings in the choir.  He is active in community theatre, and was one of the founding members of Night Court in 1989, an all lawyer musical review that has raised nearly a million dollars for charity.  Judge Karahan is a frequent singer of the National Anthem at regional events, and in his spare time he enjoys reading, cooking with his family, and competitive carom billiards.

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