Judy Clarke, the acclaimed attorney who fights the death penalty one case at a time, has been chosen as the recipient of a prestigious award from the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals.
Clarke, who has represented defendants in two capital cases in Sacramento federal court – including Theodore Kaczynski, the notorious Unabomber – is the 2015 winner of the John Frank Award, which recognizes an outstanding lawyer practicing in the federal courts of the western United States. The award will be presented Monday at the opening session of the circuit’s annual judicial conference in San Diego.
The 9th Circuit is composed of nine Western states and two Pacific island jurisdictions.
The late John Frank was a renowned Phoenix attorney who, over the course of a 62-year career, argued more than 500 appeals before Arizona and federal courts.
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In addition to teaming with former Sacramento Federal Defender Quin Denvir on behalf of serial bomber Kaczynski, Clarke has represented Olympic park bomber Eric Rudolph, child murderer Susan Smith and Tucson mass shooter Jared Lee Loughner, all of whom escaped the death penalty. Clarke’s only failure to beat back the death penalty in a high-profile case came recently when she represented Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, who was found guilty and sentenced to death for his part in the Boston Marathon bombing.
In Sacramento, she also represented Tanh Huu Lam, who was charged with instigating a 1997 firebombing of a Carmichael home in which a 9-year-old girl burned to death. Negotiated deals called for Lam and Kaczynski to plead guilty and accept life in prison without parole after prosecutors took the death penalty off the table.
Clarke, 62, has been admired for many years within the nation’s legal community but, in comparatively recent times, she has been discovered by the national press, despite her aversion to reporters.
In a 2011 New York Times story, Denvir was quoted as saying: “She has a great sense of how to put a case together to go for life instead of death.”
A March Vanity Fair profile said: “She is at war with the state – in particular, with the state’s power to impose death. She calls the death penalty ‘legalized homicide.’”
May’s Esquire piece explained Clarke this way: “By saving the worst among us, Clarke believes she’s saving all of us. Whether we like it or not.”
Clarke is based in San Diego, where she shares a practice with her husband, Thomas “Speedy” Rice.
Denny Walsh: 916-321-1189