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The Patron Saint of Defense Attorneys
July 1, 2014 10:15 AM   Subscribe

Ted Kaczynski. Jared Lee Loughner. Eric Rudolph. Susan Smith. And now, Dzhokhar Tsarnaev. They all stood (or stand) accused of committing heinous crimes. They all faced (or face) the death penalty. And they all have something- or rather, someone- else in common.

Judy Clarke has made a name for herself defending some of the country's most reviled criminals. Clarke, who rarely speaks to the press, has explained herself in these simple terms: “I just think a civilized society shouldn't legalize homicide.”

Clarke has a knack for finding the humanity in even her most notorious clients. Said David Kaczynski, who turned his brother Ted in to the authorities, “She had a real sense of Ted’s humanity. To me that was extremely meaningful and validating. I thought, ‘Oh my gosh, she understands my brother as a human being who has significant issues and challenges and mental problems, who’s done something terrible but is still on the level of a human being.’ ”

For much of her 30-year career, Clarke ran the federal public defender offices in San Diego and in Spokane, Washington. In the mid-1990s, she became the first federal public defender to head the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers.

After the trial of Susan Smith, who murdered her two children by drowning, Clarke returned the $82,944 fee a judge approved for her defense of Smith, asking that the funds be used to defend indigent defendants in other cases.
posted by showbiz_liz (17 comments total) 40 users marked this as a favorite

 
Even horrible people deserve to be represented. A guilty verdict should never be a foregone conclusion. The State has to earn it. I think she does a thankless job well.
posted by inturnaround at 10:19 AM on July 1 [17 favorites]


This is very interesting – thanks. Here is a recent related post about lawyers who "defend the indefensible."
posted by koeselitz at 10:22 AM on July 1 [1 favorite]


"I just think a civilized society shouldn't legalize homicide."

Amen.
posted by scody at 10:27 AM on July 1 [18 favorites]


It's a job that I'm not sure that I would have enough humanity in store for. I'm glad that she does this job and does it well.
posted by arcticseal at 10:28 AM on July 1 [2 favorites]


I so admire her and consider her just as much of a role model as someone like Justice Ginsburg. It must be a very fine balance to be empathetic enough to work with her clients while maintaining sanity.
posted by sallybrown at 10:58 AM on July 1


Wow, that there is some work I could never do, and I'm grateful that someone does.
posted by tchemgrrl at 11:03 AM on July 1


She sounds like a wonderful person. Very interesting to read that her parents were conservative Republicans who hosted John Birch Society meetings. Then this, from the Daily Beast link:

In 1987, Harry Clarke was killed in a private-plane crash outside the Asheville airport. Helms called Patsy to offer his condolences and sent the family a flag that had been flown in the 60-year-old father’s honor over the Capitol.

Seven years later, the Clarkes’ younger son, Mark, died of AIDS. Helms was reported in the newspapers during this period as suggesting that those who died of the disease had only brought it on themselves for what he considered ungodly behavior.

“Mom, you ought to write to Senator Helms about Mark,” Patsy Clarke quotes Judy as saying. “You ought to stand up for your son and others like him, and for AIDS research. You could make a difference because Senator Helms knew Dad. Dad was his friend. I don’t see how you cannot write to him.”

The mother sat down with a pad and a pen.

“Harry and I had a son, Mark who was almost the image of his father, though much taller,” she wrote to Helms. “He was blessed with great charm and intelligence, and we loved him. He was gay. On March 9, 1994, exactly seven years to the day that his father died, Mark followed him—a victim of AIDS. I sat by his bed, held his dear hand, and sang through that long, last night the baby song that I had sung to all our children, ‘Rock-a-bye and don’t you cry, rock-a-bye little Mark. I’ll buy you a pretty little gold horse to ride all around the pasture.’”

Her letter quoted her son saying near the end: “This disease is not beating me. When I draw my last breath I will have defeated this disease—and I will be free.”

She went on, “My reason for writing to you is not to plead for funds, although I’d like to ask your support for AIDS research; it is not to accept a lifestyle which is abhorrent to you; it is rather to ask you not to pass judgment on other human beings as ‘deserving what they get.’ No one deserves that. AIDS is not a disgrace, it is a TRAGEDY.”

She closed by saying, “I ask you that share his memory with me in compassion.”

Two weeks, later, the mother received a letter in reply. Helms wrote: “I wish he had not played Russian roulette in his sexual activity. I have sympathy for him—and for you. But there is no escaping the reality of what happened.”

The mother would recall crying and agonizing for two or three days.

“Then I got mad.”

Patsy Clarke joined with Eloise Vaughn, another mother whose son had died of AIDS in forming MAJIC, Mothers Against Jesse in Congress. They failed to keep Helms from being reelected in 1997, but it was certainly not from a lack of trying, as is duly recorded in a book they wrote about the effort, Keep Singing; Two Mothers, Two Sons, and Their Fight Against Jesse Helms.


Man, was Jesse Helms an asshole.

I once considered going into law and so am fascinated by stories like hers and the earlier post about defense attorneys. Their job is difficult and often subject to ridicule and worse, but it is absolutely essential if we are to have any kind of justice system worthy of the name.
posted by TedW at 11:08 AM on July 1 [40 favorites]


The popular perception of defense attorneys has deteriorated over the years. Does anyone remember The Defenders TV series?

The Defenders is an American courtroom drama series that ran on CBS from 1961–1965. It starred E. G. Marshall and Robert Reed as father-and-son defense attorneys who specialized in legally complex cases, with defendants such as neo-Nazis, conscientious objectors, civil rights demonstrators, a schoolteacher fired for being an atheist, an author accused of pornography, and a physician charged in a mercy killing.
posted by fairmettle at 11:12 AM on July 1 [1 favorite]


I was just thinking about Ted Kaczynski last night, inconveniencing me again (trying to mail a 15-ounce envelope with postage stamps on it in a country with a 12-ounces or less rule). These days it's probably more the TLA agencies who keep that rule in place ....

Glad he had one hell of a lawyer. Everyone deserves that.
posted by Buttons Bellbottom at 11:17 AM on July 1


The Defenders sounds really good; surprised I never heard of it. I wonder if it ever made it to syndication; many of the topics seem relevant even today.
posted by TedW at 11:19 AM on July 1 [1 favorite]


I realized lately that a defense attorney that does their job in a competent manner can actually make it harder for their client to appeal their case or get out later on a technicality, since they made sure the correct process was followed. By making sure the state does everything right, they bolster the credibility of the verdict, even when it is a guilty verdict. They are not just working for their client, but for society as a whole.

I'm guessing that is a pretty basic legal concept, but in my high school classes, it was mostly about the rights of the client and not much about the benefit to the community.
posted by soelo at 11:22 AM on July 1 [17 favorites]


I realized lately that a defense attorney that does their job in a competent manner can actually make it harder for their client to appeal their case or get out later on a technicality, since they made sure the correct process was followed.

It's not that simple. The best hope for a criminal defendant to get relief on appeal is to have had a trial attorney competent enough to have complained about any legal errors to the trial court, promptly and articulately. If the trial attorney failed to do so, the appellate court can decline to consider the issue since it hasn't been properly "preserved." It's also likely that the appellate defense counsel (who's often different than the trial attorney) wouldn't even notice the potential argument to be made on appeal.
posted by John Cohen at 11:39 AM on July 1 [1 favorite]


Won't the case for Tsarnaev be much easier than the other cases? The state doesn't have the death penalty and I still don't understand how this is even a federal case.
posted by HappyEngineer at 12:15 PM on July 1


On the one hand, I'm glad people like her are doing what they are doing because even the worst criminals deserve representation.

On the other hand, I don't agree with her for a second that these worst criminals deserve their life.

One random weekday morning when I was a kid, a friend of my dad got to his office at a lobbying firm that had committed the sin of representing a forestry industry client. He began opening a package on his desk, and then his head ceased to exist. And then one family had no more husband, no more dad, no more income, no more normal, ever. And that was just one of Kaczynski's victims.

To this day I've yet to hear a valid reason why he should get to live if he took the decision on who else should get to live into his own hands.

So, I wish her the very best, and I also hope she fails miserably.
posted by allkindsoftime at 12:18 PM on July 1 [4 favorites]


allkindsoftime: "One random weekday morning when I was a kid, a friend of my dad got to his office at a lobbying firm that had committed the sin of representing a forestry industry client. He began opening a package on his desk, and then his head ceased to exist. And then one family had no more husband, no more dad, no more income, no more normal, ever. And that was just one of Kaczynski's victims."

The way you've put this is exactly why we have defense attorneys. It is simultaneously possible for you to experience this and for society to be sure that justice is rendered impartially, without censure or judgement against either outcome.

As you would no doubt agree, you are far from objective, and with complete justification. The entire reason the justice system ostensibly exists is to make sure someone is capable of objectivity, no matter the crime.

Not because the person who committed the crime deserves it, but because all of society deserves it.
posted by scrump at 12:39 PM on July 1 [16 favorites]


It's extremely hard, but I wish more people could understand the idea that what may be "best" for crime victims (or their loved ones) is not necessarily best for society at large. And when you weigh those two against each other, society has to trump every time.

(Which doesn't fit in at all with our values here in the US, but there you have it.)
posted by maxwelton at 4:59 PM on July 1 [2 favorites]


To this day I've yet to hear a valid reason why he should get to live if he took the decision on who else should get to live into his own hands.

The issue isn't that he should get to live. It’s that no one else should be able to decide that he must die.

BTW: It seems to me that that justification for why the perpetrator deserves to die can be extended to apply to the people (jury, prosecutor, etc) who decided in turn that the perpetrator does not get to live.

It's extremely hard, but I wish more people could understand the idea that what may be "best" for crime victims (or their loved ones) is not necessarily best for society at large.

True. The position that having Ted Bundy running around murdering people is bad for society is pretty airtight. However, having a vigorous defense for every accused criminal, no matter how guilty, no matter how heinous the crime, is good for both that accused criminal and society. Occasionally that practice results in a bad person going free, which is bad for society, but that’s the tradeoff for forcing the government to actually prove that someone’s liberties should be taken away, every time.
posted by conorh at 6:41 PM on July 1 [6 favorites]


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