Karen Valentia Clopton

Chief Judge Karen Clopton  

Chief Administrative Law Judge, California Public Utilities Commission

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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 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. 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. 

Chief Judge Clopton is an accomplished author and lecturer on ethics and the elimination of bias; 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.


Community and Volunteer Activities

Chief Judge Clopton is active in the greater community. She 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.

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.

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 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.


Awards and Honors

Mary C. Lawton Award for Outstanding Government Service
American Bar Association     

History Maker Award
March into National History Month, San Francisco Chapter     

Trail Blazer Award
National Coalition of 100 Black Women, San Francisco Chapter



Silver SPUR Lifetime Achievement Award
San Francisco Planning and Urban Research (SPUR)

Robert B. Yegge Award for Outstanding Contributions in the Field of Judicial Administraion
American Bar Association  










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Chief Judge Clopton Appointed to San Francisco Human Rights Commission

Mayor Breed has appointed Chief Judge Karen Clopton to serve as a Commissioner on the San Francisco Human Rights Commission. The roots of HRC go back to 1964, when the modern day civil rights movement manifested in San Francisco through demonstrations against hotels, supermarkets, drive-in restaurants and automobile showrooms that discriminated against African Americans. Since 1964, the Human Rights Commission has grown in response to the city government's mandate to address prejudice, intolerance, bigotry and discrimination.


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Hospitality during Inhospitable Times

An interview with Karen Valentia Clopton about
Global Interfaith Understanding and Hospitality

By the Rev. Ayanna Moore

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Understanding the Impact of Federal Judges in the United States

President Donald Trump is stacking courts with his judicial picks.

Karen Clopton NOV 10, 2017 6:13PM EST


Former Judge Accuses CPUC of Wrongful Termination, Racial Bias

By Lisa Pickoff-White SEPTEMBER 19, 2017


A former California Public Utilities Commission administrative judge announced Tuesday afternoon that she is filing a legal complaint with the State Personnel Board alleging wrongful termination of a whistleblower and systemic racial bias.

Chief Judge Karen Clopton

American Bar Association Awards California Chief Administrative Law Judge Karen Clopton the Prestigious Robert B. Yegge Award

The American Bar Association has awarded Chief Administrative Law Judge Karen V. Clopton the Robert B. Yegge Award for 2017. The award is given by the Judicial Division Lawyers Conference of the American Bar Association (ABA) and is presented each year to a current or former ABA member for exceptional and noteworthy work through legal, scholarly or civic avenues. The award is named in honor of Robert B. Yegge, former Dean Emeritus of the University of Denver Sturm College of Law and former Chair of the Lawyers Conference (1987-88).


The Challenges and Rewards of an Administrative Law Judge

Nina Schuyler

San Francisco Bar Association


Uber should be suspended in California and fined $7.3 million, judge says



Respect: A Mode of Communication


R = take RESPONSIBILITY for what you say and feel without blaming others

E = use EMPATHETIC listening

S = be SENSITIVE to differences in communication styles

P = PONDER what you hear and feel before you speak

E = EXAMINE your own assumptions and perceptions


T = TRUST in & TURN to each other for support and guidance


CPUC Faces Whistleblower Complaint After San Bruno Blast Investigation

SACRAMENTO (AP) — The former chief administrative law judge at California’s powerful utility regulator says she was fired for cooperating with investigators looking into collusion between regulators and executives from Pacific Gas & Electric.


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