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Great lawyer Judy Clarke’s magic in humanizing those charged with monstrous offenses

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1995, Thunderhead Ranch, Dubois, Wyoming

Judy Clarke stands behind the late Wyoming Chief Justice Bob Rose (wearing an eyepatch). I am standing here, in pre-gray wavy hair, two men to the left of Bob Rose. (1995, Thunderhead Ranch, Dubois, Wyoming.)

TLC photo - Virginia Criminal Lawyer

When I transitioned from a Washington, D.C., 25-lawyer corporate law firm to criminal defense in 1991, I looked for role models to help me maintain my idealism and passion for switching to criminal defense while learning to be the best criminal defense lawyer I can be.

Enter Judy Clarke, who was first a role model for me in excellence in indigent criminal defense, and remains a role model for me in criminal defense. Judy is so focused on serving her clients that she repeatedly declines comment to the news media.

Judy and her husband, Speedy Rice, come across as the kind, selfless couple everyone wishes to live next door to. Judy does not dress nor act in the role of a hippie, radical, nor anti-government activist. She is an advanced human humanizing her clients. For instance, during her death penalty phase arguments to the jury for Susan Smith, who stayed off death row, Judy told the jury: “When we talk about Susan Smith’s life, we are not trying to gain your sympathy… We’re trying to gain your understanding.” Judy further told the jury: “This is not a case about evil but a case of sadness and despair.” “She made a terrible decision with a confused mind and a heart without hope. Hopelessness is not malice.”

Judy’s opposing prosecutor Tommy Pope in the Smith case confirms Judy’s magic at persuasion through perseverance: “It started out as Susan the monster and evolved into Susan the victim” “One of the things she did was humanize the defendant. I anticipate she will do something similar in the [Dzhokhar Tsarnaev] Boston [bombing] case.”

In 1995 at the Trial Lawyers College (see here, too), I returned from a several miles long run to greet Judy soon after her arrival. She gave me a hug despite my telling her the obvious, that I had just come back from a run. Two days later, we ran together in the thinner air in the Western Wyoming mountains. Each step she ran and each breath she took, she was the real McCoy, no ego included.

Deeply thanking and bowing to Judy Clarke.