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by Vault Law Editors | January 11, 2011


In the wake of fatal tragedy, the last concern on most people's minds is who will represent the alleged murderer. That is where Judy Clarke steps in. She stays out of the spotlight and operates with an “unassuming courtroom style.” But she’s been involved in some of the most well-known capital cases in recent times. Her “approach often turns death-penalty defendants into confidants who must trust her with their lives,” and her strategy has helped individuals like Ted Kaczynski (Unabomber), Eric Robert Rudolph (bomber at the Atlanta Olympics), and Susan Smith (convicted of drowning her children) dodge the death penalty. Her list of past clients also includes Zacarias Moussaoui, conspirator in the September 11 attacks.

Clarke is stepping up again to represent Jared Lee Loughner, the alleged gunman in the shooting spree at a Tucson, Arizona supermarket on January 8, 2011 that killed six (including federal judge John M. Roll) and wounded twelve (including Representative Gabrielle Giffords). Loughner faces five federal charges: two counts of murder and three counts of attempted murder.

According to the New York Times, Clarke “said she had ‘great concern’ about any Arizona judges or prosecutors handling the case.” She was present with Loughner at his court appearance yesterday in Phoenix, Arizona.

Judy Clarke

Clarke is a death-penalty opponent, a criminal-defense veteran and an expert in capital-defense cases. Recently, she has worked in private practice in San Diego, while still taking on public-defense work. She received her JD from the University of South Carolina School of Law, and she has spent the past several years as a faculty member at Washington & Lee University School of Law.

Todd Maybrown, a defense attorney in Seattle, told USA Today that Clarke “would be my first, second and third choice for someone who would do a top-notch job.” As a top choice for capital cases, Clarke is certainly in an interesting position, one that I’m sure many would shun and that probably doesn’t make Clarke too popular.

But somebody has to represent those accused of crimes, even those facing the most heinous allegations. Clarke’s career reminds me of a discussion from a law class I took in undergrad. The professor inquired who in the class would be willing to take on high-profile, controversial cases like the Arizona shooting case. I struggled with the question, agreeing that even the most shocking crimes deserved a defense but unsure if I would be comfortable providing that defense. I think it takes a lot of courage to look beyond the crime and focus on the justice system itself. What do you think?

New York Times Source on Judy Clarke
New York Times Source on Jared Loughner
USA Today Source
Washington & Lee faculty profile on Judy Clarke



Filed Under: Law

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