Justin Karczag, Formidable Litigator with a Thundering Laugh, Dies at 46
On Sunday, September 13, 2020, Justin Karczag, beloved son, brother and dear friend to many, passed away at the age of 46 after a brief illness at his home in downtown Los Angeles.
Justin’s loss after only 46 short years with those he loved is profound for his very close family and innumerable friends, and almost impossible to capture in words.
Justin was the cherished son of Anna Sylvia Karczag. He was born on July 27, 1974 and raised in beautiful Santa Barbara, California, a city he loved and returned to often as an adult to be with his family and friends. During his early years, Justin and Anna formed a very close family unit. They remained close throughout Justin’s life. Justin was Anna’s trusted confidant and a source of unending support. In turn, Anna was Justin’s inspiration and role model in everything he strived to – and did – accomplish.
Before long, Justin and Anna were joined by Justin’s much-loved sisters, Stefanie and Megan McGinnis, whom Justin always protected and helped guide through life. As he grew, Justin was fortunate to spend many hours with his large extended family – aunts, uncles, cousins and, perhaps most significantly, his grandparents, Dezso (Dennis) and Sylvia Karczag, well-known in Santa Barbara as among the founders of the highly regarded Direct Relief, an organization which has provided billions of dollars in emergency relief to the poor and victims of disaster. The values Justin learned through his grandparents’ charitable example and selfless work were key components of Justin’s lifelong commitment to ensuring human rights for all and helping those in need, without regard to politics, religion or ability to pay. These values, and the work ethic he learned from his mother, helped form the character of Justin, the man, and would serve him well in his work as a litigator on behalf of many individuals in life-changing disputes, often against large companies with vastly superior resources.
When prospective clients interviewed Justin, he often explained that the reason why he became an attorney had everything to do with his mother Anna. Justin was only seven years old when his mother passed the California State Bar. At that young age, he observed his single mom carve out her own path – gracefully yet assertively – through the male-dominated field of law in the early 1980s. When Justin was old enough, he worked as his mom’s clerk, and then as her paralegal. And this laid the foundation for all of Justin’s ambition to be a lawyer – a role in which he excelled, especially when he was fighting for his disenfranchised clients.
Justin’s education began with Santa Barbara Montessori school, Laguna Blanca and the excellent SBCC. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Justin received his B.A. in Political Science graduating Summa Cum Laude, with College Honors from the University of California Los Angeles, and his Juris Doctorate from the University of California Berkeley School of Law. At Berkeley Law, Justin earned the Honorable Advocate Award in recognition of his exceptional skills in client advocacy. He was also Director of the First Year Moot Court program, Articles Editor of the Berkeley Journal of Employment and Labor Law, and Associate Editor of the Berkeley Technology Law Journal. After graduating Berkeley Law, Justin passed three state bar examinations — California, Nevada and Hawaii — and was admitted to practice in two dozen state and federal courts. Prior to becoming a lawyer, Justin was an extern for Judge Ruggero Aldisert who sat on the Third Circuit Court of Appeals and a major figure in the American judiciary.
Justin had developed his litigation chops over the majority of his career at the law firm of Foley Bezek Behle & Curtis, LLP where he was a partner. In and out of court, Justin often was the “David” against the “Goliath” mega-firms with which he battled and over which he often prevailed. For example, in 2014, Justin co-tried a case he brought on behalf of a borrower against East West Bank in a five-week jury trial. After three days of deliberation, the jury returned a verdict in favor of Justin’s client which included $39,000,000 in damages against the Bank, over half of it in punitive damages based on Justin’s presentation of the case at trial. Justin’s clients who were represented by him in life-changing disputes often described him as a fighter who did not give up. They knew him to be passionate, compassionate, wickedly smart, and yet disarming in his ease and approachability which won over the hearts and minds of the people with whom he worked, and judges and jurors alike.
In 2017, Justin made the difficult but exciting decision to open his own law firm, Karczag & Associates PC, with offices in downtown Los Angeles. Justin was joined at the new firm by his paralegal and close friend of thirty years, Eugene Huffman, and by associates who shared Justin’s passion for justice and the hard work it often entailed.
In 2018, Justin joined forces with his friend Ara Babaian, founder of Encore Law Group in Los Angeles, when they realized that their approaches to the practice of law and dedication to serving their clients was a great fit. Ara led the Corporate Department and Justin led the firm’s Litigation Department with partner Muhammed Hussain. Justin’s successes in the practice of law continued and, in 2019, Encore Law was proud to announce its expansion into the areas of Family Law and Estate Planning.
Anyone who knew Justin knew of his fierce dedication to human rights and equality. Justin was passionate about civil rights and was highly politically engaged. He possessed a fierce intellect which allowed him to support his positions rather than just offering opinions. Justin believed a well-informed electorate is the key to maintaining a healthy democracy, and urged everyone he knew to remain vigilant and ALWAYS VOTE! Justin somehow found time to participate in and support organizations dedicated to upholding democratic ideals, the rights of persons of color, women, the LGBTQ+ community, the poor and of course the disenfranchised. He always believed, even during times of great personal loss and struggle, that the world was a beautiful place we were lucky to inhabit.
Justin’s father, William Potter, died in 2019 in Houston, Texas, after many years of owning and managing residential grounds for craftsmen and workers at the nearby Renaissance Festival. Justin shared a love of fantasy and adventure with his father and continued this work after his father’s passing.
Though he lived a short life, Justin’s impact on this world was outsized and will continue through the wonderful example of kindness and gratitude he has left for those who knew and loved him. His love for his family and attention to his friends was legendary. His smile lit any room that he entered, and his easy, big laugh endeared him to all who were fortunate enough to know him. He will never be replaced, but will always be in our hearts and thoughts.
Justin is survived by his mother as well as his two sisters Stefanie and Megan whom he loved very much, his niece Olivia, and several aunts, uncles and cousins.
Because of the current medical crisis, a digital memorial is available at the following link: JustinPotterKarczag.com
Coronavirus-permitting, the family expects to hold a memorial service in the Spring in Santa Barbara.