Elias A. Karu, 71, former civilian legal adviser to the comptroller of the Air Force until his retirement in 1972, died of a respiratory ailment Feb. 22 at Arlington Hospital.

He had taken the civilian position after serving with the Army Signal Corps and the Army Air Corps during World War II, when he attained the rank of major.

Mr. Karu, an authority on financial management and court administration, also has been a consultant to the administrative office of the U.S. Courts. In 1960, he was coauthor of a comprehensive management survey of the U.S. District Court systems in New Jersey and Illinois.

He was born in Harrison, N.J., and earned a law degree and master of law degree from Rutgers University Law School and a master's degree in public administration from New York University. Before World War II, he practiced law in Newark, N.J.

Mr. Karu graduated from the Air War College and completed the Air Force commanders course at George Washington University. He held a number of military and civilian meritorious service and outstanding performance awards.

He was historian of the Federal Bar Association and belonged to the National Lawyers Club. He lived in McLean.

He is survived by his wife, Helen, and a daughter, Anita, of McLean, and a son, Alexander, of Riverside, Calif.

The family suggests that expressions of sympathy be in the form of contributions to the McLean Volunteer Fire Department.