Karen V. Clopton is the first African American Chief Administrative Law Judge for the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC) and manages the Administrative Law Judge (ALJ) Division, including over 40 judges. She served as the CPUC’s Interim General Counsel from March 1, 2014 until February 28, 2015 managing over 70 attorneys and implementing best legal and human resource management practices; improving accountability, timeliness, efficiency, continuing legal education, and ethical considerations. The Board of Trustees for the State Bar of California appointed Chief Judge Clopton on January 28, 2015 to the Commission on the Rules of Professional Conduct to assist in reviewing and revising the ethical code of conduct for California attorneys for submission to the California Supreme Court in 2017.
The Commissioners charged Chief Judge Clopton with conducting a “soup to nuts” review of the CPUC’s decision-making processes in January 2009 and she exceeded every expectation with her thorough research, stakeholder outreach, focus and working groups, public input, review, and innovative recommendations. The CPUC has embraced her many initiatives to make its crucial regulatory work more accessible to the public, more transparent, and more efficient. In recognition of her work at the CPUC and throughout her more than 25 year career, the American Bar Association awarded Chief Judge Clopton the 2010 Mary C. Lawton Award for Outstanding Government Service.
Chief Judge Clopton was the first African American elected President of the League of Women Voters of San Francisco in its 90-year history and served an unprecedented two terms. She was also the first African American woman to serve as General Counsel for the California Department of Corporations. Appointed by Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger, she oversaw all litigation counsel, both in house and outside; and served as liaison with the Governor’s legal staff and other governmental agencies addressing among other consumer protection concerns, predatory lending practices, including subprime mortgages and payday loans. Recruited in 2002 to be the first Chief of Operations and Corporate Counsel for the San Francisco State University Foundation, Inc., she managed grants and contracts; real estate and property management; portfolio and asset management; all legal, compliance, and regulatory requirements; outside counsel; and Foundation litigation and staff. A lifelong champion of equity, diversity, and inclusion, Chief Judge Clopton successfully chaired the University’s Task Force on Intergroup Relations to universal plaudits.
Chief Judge Clopton has made history throughout her career. She was the first African American woman appointed to the San Francisco Civil Service Commission in its 100 year history; first by Mayor Frank Jordan in 1993 and then re-appointed by Mayor Willie L. Brown in 1999. During her tenure as Commissioner she streamlined the classification system, personal services contracting process, and improved the civil service merit examination system. She was serving an unprecedented fourth term as President of the Commission when the Port Commission recruited her in 2000 to become the Port of San Francisco’s first Chief of Operations, overseeing Human Resources, Information Systems, Communications, Legislative Affairs, Business Services, Contract Compliance, and Environmental Health and Safety. She was the Port executive in charge of the Port staff’s move from the historic Ferry Building to Pier One.
Chief Judge Clopton graduated cum laude from Vassar College, earned her JD from Antioch University School of Law (America’s seminal clinical legal education program and now the University of the District of Columbia’s law school, an HBCU), and won a Maguire Fellowship to study international and comparative labor management relations in London, England, and Geneva, Switzerland. In 2014, the State Bar of California’s Board of Trustees appointed Chief Judge Clopton to Chair the Council on Access and Fairness; she has served on the Council since 2010. Chief Judge Clopton also served on the State Bar of California’s Task Force on Admissions Regulation Reform Implementation in 2013-14.
Chief Judge Clopton is an accomplished author and lecturer on elimination of bias and ethics, professional responsibility and corporate governance, regulatory practices and procedures, workplace diversity and discrimination issues, sexual harassment prevention and investigation policies, and alcohol and substance abuse policies. Chief Judge Clopton serves on the Editorial Board of the California Labor and Employment Law Review and served on the State Bar’s Labor and Employment Law Section’s Executive Committee from 2000-2010, serving in leadership positions throughout her tenure, including as Chair, Vice Chair, Secretary, and Treasurer.
Chief Judge Clopton is active in the greater community, in addition to her leadership of League of Women Voters, she is the National Legislative Chair for Jack and Jill of America, Inc. (America’s premier Black family organization) and President of the San Francisco Jack and Jill Chapter.
Chief Judge Clopton received the 2013 Silver SPUR Lifetime Achievement Award from the nationally pre-eminent urban planning and research organization, SPUR, and was recognized for this honor by Congress, the California State Senate, and San Francisco's Mayor and Board of Supervisors for championing integrity, transparency, and public access in government. Chief Judge Clopton was awarded the Judicial Award of Excellence, In Recognition of Exemplary and Dedicated Service, by the California Association of Black Lawyers in 2012. She received the 2011 Trailblazer Award from the National Coalition of 100 Black Women, San Francisco Chapter. She also received the 2011 History Maker Award for the March into National Women's History Month, "Celebrating the Contributions of Powerful Women of the Bay."