Karen Sage will bring a lifetime of experience and knowledge to the 299th bench. Her professional career, involvement with the Democratic Party, and dedication to charitable causes combine to give Karen a unique and unparalleled perspective for this important bench.
Currently an Assistant District Attorney for Travis County, Karen was tasked by District Attorney Rosemary Lehmberg to help develop and formulate the Mental Health Court Docket and is currently the sole prosecutor tasked with handling those cases. Her goal as the mental health prosecutor is to find alternatives to the traditional incarceration and recidivism from which many mentally ill people suffer. As part of her commitment to decriminalizing mental illness, Karen serves on the Mayor’s Mental Health Task Force. Before her work on mental illness, Karen prosecuted hundreds of important and high-profile felony cases, with crimes ranging from sexual assault to manslaughter. She also handled a number of murder cases, taking five to trial and winning convictions in all of them. One of those cases was the prosecution of Carlo Comparan for the murder of Michael Riojas. Karen joined the Travis County DA’s office in 2006.
Before moving to Austin with her family, Karen worked as a prosecutor in the United States Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of New York, where she was awarded the Director’s Award for Superior Performance from the United States Department of Justice. As an Assistant United States Attorney, Karen worked a number of difficult cases and crimes, such as narcotics, human trafficking, insurance fraud, and securities fraud. One of her biggest cases in New York was the prosecution of the largest car insurance fraud in history at that time. During her five-year tenure, Karen amassed an impressive record of convictions for white collar criminals.
Prior to working in the US Attorney’s Office, Karen served as Counsel to the Mayor of Los Angeles for three years, where she worked on a number of important civic issues. Community policing was one such issue, and Karen helped develop policies in the immediate wake of the Rodney King riots that are still in use today. She assisted in negotiating deals between the city and property owners to enable Magic Johnson to begin his movie theater company, which operates theaters in underserved neighborhoods and has become a great success. It was in this job of working for the mayor that Karen found her true calling of public service.
Karen has a variety of other legal experience. She clerked for the Honorable Kim McLane Wardlaw in the Central District of California. Judge Wardlaw now sits on the United States Ninth Circuit Court of Appeals and is the first Hispanic woman to do so. Karen’s legal career began with the prestigious law firm of O’Melveny & Myers, which she joined after graduating cum laude from the University of Minnesota. There she worked on complex litigation and white collar criminal defense.
Practicing law is not the only thing Karen does; she also teaches it. She designed and currently instructs a class on the Ethics of Criminal Law at the University of Texas. Her goal as an instructor is to impart to young lawyers the great responsibility and power that comes with prosecutorial discretion. In addition to her instruction at the University of Texas, Karen taught Federal White Collar Crime at Duke University as an adjunct professor.
Mrs. Sage has been a Democrat for as long as she has been able to cast a ballot. She first became interested in Democratic politics during her last year of law school, when she volunteered for Senator Paul Wellstone’s legendary grassroots campaign, making thousands of phone calls. Karen continued her activism on the 1992 Clinton campaign, knocking on doors in Los Angeles shortly after moving there. She thought she would be headed to Washington, D.C., to work for the Justice Department when Mayor Riordan asked her to serve as his Counsel.
Karen has continued her commitment to the Democratic Party, donating to countless candidates and serving on a fundraising committee for Senator John Kerry in 2004 that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. Since coming to Austin, she has become a Finance Council member of the Travis County Democratic Party, an Alpha Dog member of South Austin Democrats, and a strong supporter of Annie’s List.
A proud AFSCME member, Karen sits on the Criminal Law Board of the Austin Bar Association and is a member of the Travis County Women Lawyer’s Association and the Texas District and County Attorneys Association. She also supports NARAL, Any Baby Can, and Caritas of Austin.
Karen is married to Dr. William Sage, Vice Provost for Health Affairs and the James R. Dougherty Chair for Faculty Excellence in law at the University of Texas, and they have two children ages eight and ten.
Born and raised in Worthington, Minnesota, Karen grew up in a middle-class household grounded by Midwestern sensibilities and a sense of responsibility to the community. Her father, James, was a police officer for over forty years and recently received an award for 57 years of community service to Worthington. Karen’s mother, Dorothy, owned a small upholstery and drapery business. Karen was the first in her family to attend college and law school.