"I'm telling the guys next to me on the bus: 'Quiet down, man, this is kinda important,'" Karantsalis says. "Then I told the lawyer, 'No. No more extensions.'"
The soft-spoken librarian, who teaches research classes at Miami Dade College between freelancing for Miami New Times and the Miami Herald, has become an unlikely central character in a hotly contested federal case that has free-speech advocates ready to clash with top D.C. officials.
In a case that has now made its way onto the U.S. Supreme Court's radar, Karantsalis is challenging a decades-long insistence by the feds that mug shots are not public record. The nine justices are expected to meet in a couple of weeks on the matter.
"I need this information to be able to tell stories," Karantsalis says.
His fight began three years ago in an MDC classroom. He had been stonewalled while trying to obtain a mug shot of Luis Giro, a local fraudster facing federal charges; his students persuaded him to fight for the photos.
"Our students are hungry for real information," he says.
So Karantsalis, who's also an amateur litigator with hundreds of lawsuits under his belt, sued the U.S. Marshals Service. For years, press advocates have lamented the Marshals' bizarre insistence that mug shots aren't public — despite the fact that virtually all state-level police departments release booking photos.
That creates the strange scenario that mug shots are readily available for the neighborhood kid who shoplifted a Snickers bar, but not a million-dollar Ponzi schemer facing time in the federal pen.