“Turks can accomplish anything they want in the US”

An Interview with Judge Jay Karahan

Jay (Ceyhun) Karahan is the highest ranked Turkish American who serves in elected office and he has served successfully in this position since January 1, 2003. He was born and raised in Tampa Florida. Judge Karahan’s father, Necmettin (Nash) Karahan was one of the first heavyweight professional boxers in Turkey and immigrated to the US in 1952. He was also a wrestler and a sparring partner for Rocky Marciano, who held the world heavyweight title from 1952 to 1956, and is the only world heavyweight champion in professional boxing history to retire undefeated. Nash Karahan opened a wholesale business and was an honorary consul general of Turkey for Florida from 1970 to the late 1980s. Judge Karahan is also among those listed in the Turk of America Magazine’s 50 Most Influential Turks

Judge Karahan, first of all, thank you so much for accepting this interview. We know that you are a Turkish-American and would like to hear more about your story.

Baba Necmettin “Nash” Karahan emigrated from Turkey in 1952 first settling in NYC. There, he met my mother Elaine Oppenheim and they fell in love and married. Baba worked as a professional boxer, wrestler, and had several other jobs to survive financially. They were touring the US while he was on the professional wrestling circuit and while they were in Amarillo TX they learned they were expecting a baby – me. They then drove to Tampa Florida and settled there with dad opening his cleaning supplies business Nashco. I was born in 1956. Dad became a US citizen in 1957.

How did you decide to become a judge?

Before I became a Judge I practiced law for 20 years first as a criminal prosecutor and then as a criminal defender and mediator. In 2002 I was approached by lawyers and judges encouraging me to run for Judge. I was successful and have served as a Judge for over fifteen and a half years. Due to dirty politics in my city I was defeated for re-election this last March 2018. I will complete my term in December of this year and next year I will return to a private practice of law and mediation.

Could you please tell us more about the process ?

To become a Judge in the US in State Court one must first survive the political process of election by popular vote. I survived 4 of these and failed the fifth try. In federal court judges are appointed by the US president with recommendation of the US Senators of the state the Judge is wishing to serve in.

Do you have
any advice for young people?

Work hard, study hard, maintain your integrity and good health, make lots of friends and contacts and ask them to help you when you need help. Success is never something accomplished alone.

How many years have you served as a judge and how many cases have you handled

15 and 1/2 years of judicial service, handled over 75,000 criminal cases, presided over 500 trials, began a specialty court for repeat DWI offenders to help them get sober and make streets safer to drive on.

Last year President Donald Trump’s travel ban was blocked by two federal judges. How is this possible? How does the Judicial Branch work with the other branches?

In the US we have three co-equal branches of government. But the judicial branch is the most powerful of the three because judges can declare executive and legislative action illegal and without power.

What do you think about democracy in Turkey?

I am proud of Turkey and I’m glad the people there have a voice to decide its own government.

Have you ever been to Turkey? What is your idea about the country?

I’ve visited Turkey nearly 10 times. I love Turkey and always look forward to visit my “other” homeland! The Turkish people are so friendly, creative, industrious and generous.

What would you like to tell about the Turkish community in the U.S.?

Turks in America have over a thousand years of history in their genes – history of survival, accomplishment, education, achievement, and exploration. Turks can accomplish anything they want in the US with the right education, solid decision making, connections and knowledge of economic and political systems. Anyone can achieve the American Dream if motivates to do so. Turks are uniquely equipped with Ottoman heritage and life experience to do as well or better than most who are not native Americans.

When you tell about your Turkish background in the U.S., how do people react?

I have never experienced resistance about my Turkish heritage. It is a source of pride for me because people know that I am a first-generation American whose family struggled for success and a good life. But I am an American first and I have obtained higher and post grad education, much job experience and made many friends before success opened doors to me. Nothing came easily, and I’m glad for that because I appreciate that hard-earned success more than if it had been just given to me. I paid for most of my education by working through school almost full time and taking full time classes. I began working for my baba at age 13 and I kept working in college and law school. So, I earned it, helped many others seeking a better life along the way, and I feel now that God has blessed me. I have much more to accomplish yet before I retire completely!  After December I am thinking about taking a three month sabbatical to rest, travel, read, exercise, and pray about the next step in my life’s journey. One of the many places I will travel to then will be Turkey!


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