Karl Olson specializes in Public Records Act litigation and in defending news media clients and individuals against defamation and “SLAPP suits” (Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation). He has successfully defended dozens of such defamation cases in his 35-year legal career, disposing of most of them at a very early stage and obtaining sanctions or fee awards against the plaintiffs in many such cases. He has successfully prosecuted numerous battles for access to public records under the California Public Records Act, including successful lawsuits decided by the California Supreme Court involving access to public employee salaries, and access to emails sent by government employees on their “private” electronic devices.

He is considered one of the foremost experts on California's anti-SLAPP statute and has been actively engaged in litigation, commentary and legislation relating to the statute. He has written amicus curiae briefs for California newspapers and the California Newspaper Publishers Association in many of the anti-SLAPP cases decided by the California Supreme Court. He is the 2018 “Best Lawyer of the Year” named by Best Lawyers of America in the field of “Litigation -- First Amendment” in northern California.

Mr. Olson represented news media in the briefing and oral argument in the California Supreme Court in City of San Jose v. Superior Court, the 2017 case which established that public officials'  and public employees' emails and texts using “private” electronic devices to conduct public business are subject  to the California Public Records Act.

Mr. Olson has successfully pursued many media access to public records cases. He successfully represented the Contra Costa Times in a lawsuit against the City of Oakland to obtain public employee salary information, winning a landmark California Supreme Court opinion. (IFPTE v. Superior Court (2007) 42 Cal. 4th 319. He also represented the Contra Costa Newspaper Group against the California Department of Health Services, winning access to records on employees disciplined by the Department and obtaining an award of attorney's fees for his client.  In 2011, he successfully represented the Sacramento Bee in a Public Records Act case involving access to pension amounts received by retired public employees.

He successfully represented the San Francisco Chronicle in defending, and obtaining dismissal of, a libel suit brought by a podiatrist against the Chronicle and two star athletes.  Carver v. Bonds (2005) 135 Cal. App. 4th 328.

Mr. Olson also represented the California First Amendment Coalition and, before that, the San Jose Mercury News in obtaining access to investment records of the California Public Employees Retirement System (CalPERS). He also represented the Coalition of University Employees in a successful lawsuit against the University of California to obtain access to its venture capital performance returns.

Mr. Olson's practice also focuses on pre-publication counseling; public and press access to court records and governmental proceedings; intellectual property matters such as copyright and trademark infringement claims; and trade secret litigation. Most recently, Mr. Olson was part of the team led by COFO’s Therese Cannata and Mark Fickes, which successfully represented whistleblower Joanne Hoeper in recovering over $2 million from the City and County of San Francisco.  Mr. Olson has authored numerous articles on media law issues and lectured widely on defamation and First Amendment topics for both professional journalists and lawyers.

Mr. Olson won the 2018 and 2005 James Madison award for legal counsel from the Northern California Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists and was featured in a front-page article in San Francisco's Daily Journal, “Attorney Who Advocates for Public Access Wins Praise” (March 16, 2005). He won the California Newspaper Publishers Association's Freedom of Information Award in 2012.

He has been named a “Northern California SuperLawyer” in the media/First Amendment field by San Francisco Magazine for the last 11 years.

His practice also includes employment law and other commercial litigation matters. He has extensive experience in both the trial and appellate courts.

He is admitted to practice in the Supreme Court of the United States, the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, the U.S. District Courts for the Northern, Eastern, Southern and Central Districts of California, and in the state of California. 

Mr. Olson graduated with high honors from the University of California's Hastings College of the Law in San Francisco in 1982 and served as an articles editor for the Hastings Law Journal. From 1982 to 1983, he was a research attorney for Justice Joseph Grodin of the California Supreme Court. He worked as an associate at Morrison & Foerster from 1983 to 1986, and from 1986 to 1997, Mr. Olson worked as an associate, then a partner, at Cooper, White & Cooper, before founding Levy, Ram, & Olson in 1997, Ram & Olson in 2009, and Ram, Olson, Cereghino, & Kopczynski in 2011. He joined Cannata, O’Toole, Fickes and Olson as a partner in April 2017.

Mr. Olson was born, raised and still lives in San Francisco.

Mr. Olson can be reached by e-mail at: kolson@cofolaw.com.


San Francisco Office
100 Pine Street, Suite 350
San Francisco, CA 94111
Telephone: 415.409.8900
Email: kolson@cofolaw.com

Practice Areas

  • Trials
  • Art Law
  • Environmental and Regulatory Law
  • Commercial and Real Estate Litigation