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Judy Clarke: Jared Loughner's 'Amazing' Attorney

3 years ago
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Judy Clarke is the Forrest Gump of criminal defense attorneys. Otherwise unassuming, even shy, she seems to turn up, front and center, for many of the cases we'll never forget.

She counseled Ted Kaczynski 13 years ago this month when the Unabomber was toying with the government in advance of his guilty plea. She helped an unrepentant Eric Robert Rudolph, the Olympic Park bomber, avoid a death sentence. She was present and accountable during the chaotic trial of Susan Smith, the South Carolina mother who drowned her two small children in a car in a lake. She even represented Zacarias Moussaoui, the mercurial al-Qaeda conspirator. All of those defendants faced capital charges. None are currently on death row. And now, Clarke is Jared Lee Loughner's attorney in a dramatic case that surely will be in the headlines for years to come.

The 22-year-old defendant in the Tucson massacre case could have been assigned a lawyer who sleeps through trials, or who doesn't investigate witnesses, or who otherwise is ineffective as he squares off with federal prosecutors, a devastated Arizona, and an angry nation. In Clarke, Loughner has in his corner a tenacious attorney who is something of a folk hero to criminal defense attorneys around the country. She is dogged, detailed, and well-respected among the federal judiciary. She is also a staunch opponent of the death penalty, which is helpful, if not required, in her line of work. And she specializes, or so it seems, in molding pretrial agreements between her clients and the government which end up precluding long trials, endless appeals, and death row visits. Even legendary trial lawyers, ones with stellar national reputations of their own, consider Clarke "amazing" (to use a word that kept popping up in my in-box).

Clarke, one of the foremost experts at representing capital defendants, has little of the flamboyance of Stephen Jones, who represented Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh. She has little of the oratory skill of Michael Tigar, who saved Terry Nichols' life in the second Oklahoma City bombing trial. She does not fill a courtroom like Michael Jackson's attorney, Thomas Mesereau, or Texas' famed Dick Deguerin. But she does everything well, avoids the limelight, eschews displays of ego, and works as hard as a defense lawyer can. "She is one of my personal heroes," a veteran federal public defender told me Tuesday. "She is one of those extraordinary attorneys who have it all. She has a sharp mind for legal analysis, is an exceptional trial lawyer and is as dedicated and driven as anyone you will ever meet."

Dedicated and driven. The Tortoise, not the Hare. "Tenacious, committed, wicked smart," is how one tenacious, committed and wicked smart defense attorney described Clarke to me. Another bright legal light, Donald Rehkopf, Jr., who, like Clarke, worked on the Moussaoui case, shared with me this interesting observation about Loughner's attorney: "It is not only Judy's fantastic attention to detail, but her uncanny ability to ascertain what those details are and where they most likely are to be found. This may sound corny, but it's the best I can come up with at the moment. I would compare her to the great character of Sherlock Holmes, who can locate a seemingly innocuous bit of evidence and instantly knows its value to the case."

Rehkopf told me that Clarke's representation of South Carolina's most infamous mother, Susan Smith, "was a modern day equivalent to Clarence Darrow's famous death penalty defense of Nathan Leopold and Richard Loeb in 1924." The Smith case, 15 years ago, prompted Clarke to offer some rare public introspection about her journey to the law. This, from a 1996 interview with Dan Webster of the (Spokane, Washington) Spokesman-Review:
'''We debated a lot in the family,' she says. 'We were very vocal, and we always took positions.' The Clarke family motto, she says, was 'Be what you can be and be the best that you can be, whatever it is you pick to be.' And what Clarke wanted to be always related to the law. 'From about the sixth or seventh grade, I wanted to become either the chief justice of the Supreme Court or Perry Mason,' Clarke says. 'One summer when I was young, my mother wanted to teach my sister and I crocheting and the Constitution. She says that for my sister, the crocheting stuck, and for me, the Constitution stuck.'"
In the Smith case, Clarke's (ultimately successful) plea to the jury to spare her client's life was eloquent -- and perhaps a sign of things to come in United States v. Loughner. Again, from Webster's 1996 account:
"'This is not a case about evil,' Clarke told the jury. 'This is a case about despair and sadness.' Smith, Clarke said, 'had choices and decisions. Her choices were irrational and her decisions were tragic. She made a horrible, horrible decision to be at that lake that night. She made that decision with a confused mind and a heart without hope.' But, Clarke added, 'Confusion is not evil, and hopelessness is not malice.'"
Already Clarke has made her imprint on Loughner's defense, asking a federal magistrate Monday to recuse Arizona's federal trial judges from presiding over her client's case following the death of their boss, Chief U.S. District Judge John M. Roll, in Saturday's assault. No defendant ought to be judged by a co-worker of one of the victims, and the arrival of another federal judge, from beyond Arizona, surely will help Loughner and decrease the likelihood of viable post-trial appeals issues should the case make it that far.

Clarke also is likely to be aggressive when it comes to the venue for the case -- she may seek to have it moved out of Arizona altogether, depending upon which judge comes in to take care of the matter. And you can also count on an intense focus, from the defense perspective anyway, on Loughner's mental state leading up to the shootings. The defendant, of course, is free to steer his own course -- which may or may not include a viable defense. A lawyer can only do so much. But at Monday's hearing Loughner was deferential to his attorney. If he's smart, he'll stay that way.

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144 Comments

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Rileyt

After reading oh so many of these comments I have concluded that 99% of the responses reference monies. Whether it be in the form of time or taxes, monies nonetheless.

We need to stop and focus on the reality of what is. A young disturbed man, who made many many references and whos onboing behaviors should have been attended to and wer not resulted in a hanious crime. An unbelievable amount of heartache and loss.

We need as a society as a nation to get back to our roots and run this country how God and our forfathers intended it to be run. We are so busy running around in our daily lives working multiple jobs to pay our bills, socialize to increase our networking and little if none left for the homefront. OUr mothers are working, our fathers are working our children are left uncared for or in the care of others who do not represent many times those of our family beliefs. OUr education system is failing when we focus social studies on history and not our social environment. WE AS A NATION ARE FAILING OUR CHILDREN.

In closing, my heart and prayers go to the families affected. To the indivudual who commited this hanious crime, you will have to stand and be accountable to society for a short time, you wll have to stand and be accountable to a more powerful God for always!

January 12 2011 at 5:53 PM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
Rileyt

First, we need as a society and as christians pray for the families and friends of these individuals that have suffered loss and heartache.

Second, we need to also recognize and commit to the process of our constitution. This individual by his choices and his behavior warrant an equal consequence. As as christian, I do not support the death penalty, but as a nation of humanity he must at the very least be kept from ever having the freedoms to commit such a horrific act again.

January 12 2011 at 5:36 PM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
rjwinzdub

Why is Adnrew Cohen (whoever he is) writing a paen to this defense attorney? Doesn't like the limelight? Then why does she take high profile cases covered by national media? How much is she paid?

January 12 2011 at 5:01 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Lori Brower

I would like to start off by saying that my heart goes out to the victims and their families of this senseless tragedy. No amount of apologies, prayers or good intentions will ever undo the pain. I must also say that while Loughner is clearly guilty of these shootings, a case such as this, is not as "cut and dry" as most people would like for it to be. There will be many factors that will, and must, come into play to ensure that JUSTICE, not revenge, will be served here. Loughner's mental state must be taken into account to determine if he can LEGALLY be held accountable for his actions. This is based on the law, not some lawyers trick to run up an exorbitant fee for trial or an attempt to make headlines. What most of the commentators on here seem to forget is that our Constitution was written to protect the rights of everyone, not just those individuals that society deems fit to receive them. It is easy when angry to say that there is no need to provide the best defense possible for an accused person. It is easy to say "just give him the death penalty". What is not easy to do is to recognize that by defending Mr. Loughner's right to a fair trail, this country is continuing to defend the rights of ALL of it citizens. If we as a society stop allowing for true justice, then on a case by case basis, we inevitably will be destroying our own freedoms and protections as well. By taking these cases, Ms. Clark is not so much defending the actions of her clients as she is protecting the very rights that this country was founded on.

January 12 2011 at 12:13 PM Report abuse +10 rate up rate down Reply
cat5400

Do we, as a society, put to death someone who is insane, through no fault of their own? Just a question, with hard answers. I would say the answer needs plenty of thought. I am in favor of the death penalty, at least leaning that way, for this murderer, but I still question it.

January 12 2011 at 12:13 PM Report abuse +3 rate up rate down Reply
1 reply to cat5400's comment
jhanson2463

Short answer is Yes, we do. Check with the good folks in TX. A better question might be should we?

January 12 2011 at 7:51 PM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply
Siony

When I was raising my two daughters I made sure I knew what they had in their drawers, love notes, candy, questionable possessions, whatever, especially, I knew what was under their beds. I had to know what they ate for lunch, etc, who their friends and their families, As long as they lived under my roof I had to know what is transpiring in their daily lives. I did not only question the questionable, I investigated.
In the case of Loughner, inspite of the exhibited bizarre behaviors, no one cared to investigate what he was up to?

January 12 2011 at 11:54 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
rwh56

The cost of appointing and paying for a defense attorney's time to defend someone is only a small cost of the trial. A courtroom, its judge and staff, the officers who hold the defendant in custody, and the facility and expenses of holding a defendant, the prosecutor and staff and investigators, the time taken off from work by a jury to hear a case, are all a much larger expense. To worry just about the defense attorney's cost merely expresses the rejection of our constitutional right to counsel if we should ever be accused of a crime. (I also read that Ms. Clarke returned her fee to the State of Carolina.)

January 12 2011 at 11:45 AM Report abuse +1 rate up rate down Reply
Bob

Our Constitution says you have the right to a speedy trial. It seems that it only applies to the defendent. His Attorney will drag this on for years. I think they call it a cooling down period. His Attorney is running up a Bill with the taxpayers. The Judge is the only one who can speed up the trial but they are all buddy buddy in this game. This is a mockery of our Judicial system. If this Judge allows this to be extended more than a month, he should be impeached.

January 12 2011 at 11:32 AM Report abuse +2 rate up rate down Reply
nmazelis

"Clarke also is likely to be aggressive when it comes to the venue for the case -- she may seek to have it moved out of Arizona altogether, depending upon which judge comes in to take care of the matter"
Ok, people, let's hear a rousing chorus of "SAN FRANCISCO, open your Golden Gate!"

January 12 2011 at 11:32 AM Report abuse -5 rate up rate down Reply
Jackie

WE ARE ALREADY PROVIDING INTERPRETERS IN THE COURT SYSTEM, AND IN THE SCHOOL SYSTEMM AND IN THE HEALTHCARE SYSTEM, AND IN THE DEPARTMENT OF MOTOR VEHICLE SYSTEM.... YOUR TAX DOLLARS AT WORK - PRESUMABLY AN AMERICAN CITIZEN IS ENTITLED TO THE SIMILAR JUSTICE ??

January 12 2011 at 11:30 AM Report abuse rate up rate down Reply

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