Karen listening to Canada's Supreme Court Justice Beverly McLaughlin (2006)
An impressive career of "firsts" marks Townsend's ascent to Chief Deputy Attorney. Townsend was the first woman chosen as Outstanding Law Student for the University of Montana Law School and the first woman Outstanding Phi Delta Phi Graduate for the Northwest Region of the legal fraternity. She was the first woman prosecutor for Missoula County to prosecute criminal cases; the first woman named as a special prosecutor for the State of Montana; the first woman chosen as an Outstanding Lawyer for the Western Montana Bar Association; the first prosecutor to participate in the Advanced Trial Advocacy Program at UM School of Law; and the first woman to direct that program. Further, Townsend was the first Montana woman elected as Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers and the first woman to serve as State Chair of the Montana Fellows; and she was the first woman to serve as Missoula County Chief Deputy. In addition, Townsend served as the first woman president of the Kiwanis Club of Missoula.
In 2006, she was the first Montana lawyer selected as a delegate to the Canada-US legal exchange where she met with and discussed legal issues with Canadian and US lawyers and judges. The U.S. Delegation was headed by United States Supreme Court Chief Justice John Roberts, former Associate Justice Sandra Day O'Connor, and Associate Justice Steven Breyer. Canada's delegation was headed by their Supreme Court Chief Justice Beverly McLaughlin.
"There have been few opportunities for the citizens of Missoula and Mineral counties to elect a District Court Judge. A woman has never served in the position," says Mae Nan Ellingson, Missoula attorney and youngest delegate to the 1972 Montana Constitutional Convention. "The citizens of Missoula and Mineral Counties couldn't do any better than electing Karen Townsend to the Fourth Judicial District. She has the intellect, experience, competency, and impeccable sense of fairness necessary for rendering informed and fair decisions. No one ever wants to find themselves in court, but if it happens, you want an unbiased, compassionate, and learned judge. Karen is that judge."