Inside LADA

July 18, 2017: A Day in the Life: Catalina Prosecutor

Deputy District Attorney Karen Brako climbs aboard a roaring helicopter every other Friday and heads to work.

As the sun rises, she enjoys the serene ocean view. Fifteen minutes later, Brako arrives at her destination. She hops onto a golf cart to complete her commute to the Catalina Courthouse, located in the heart of the city of Avalon.

The little-known courthouse, which is 22 miles off the coast of Long Beach, has been operational for more than 50 years. It is accessible by boat or helicopter. 

In one instance, Brako arrived in court before the judge. He was looking for a place to moor his boat. 

That’s life on the island.

Time slows down and even courtroom attire becomes uncharacteristically casual. Sun-kissed defendants appear before the court not in suits but in T-shirts, jeans and flip-flops. 

Even the criminal offenses are of a different variety than on the mainland.

Brako routinely prosecutes murders in Long Beach. But, in the Catalina Courthouse, she tries only misdemeanor cases, such as public intoxication and driving under the influence in a golf cart.

Her legal expertise has grown in this unique assignment. Brako is one of the few prosecutors in Los Angeles County who regularly turns to California’s Fish and Game Code when determining what charges to file.

A common offense: abalone poaching. The pilfering of even one abalone can result in a $15,000 fine, with additional penalties from the court that can total a whopping $61,000.