Judy Clarke: The 'Badass' Lawyer Who Represents Mass Murderers

Judith Clarke attorneyWhat do the Unabomber Ted Kaczynski, Olympic park bomber Eric Rudolph, child-murderer Susan Smith, and Gabby Giffords' shooter Jared Lee Loughner all have in common?

Attorney Judy Clarke has saved all their lives.

Clarke, 60, is a legend among defense attorneys. She has represented some of the most heinous killers in America, steers their cases away from the media, and quietly rescues them from death row. And this is why Quora users voted her one of the most "badass" lawyers in the country (via Business Insider).

A good public defender must fully defend even the clearly guilty, and that is who most of Clarke's high-profile clients are. Her skill is in convincing her clients and the prosecutors to avoid trial, and settle for a plea deal of life imprisonment instead. She has befriended some of America's most reviled people, in order to save them from what she calls "legalized homicide."

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"Judy knows no one wants to be measured by the worst moment of their lives," her friend Jack King of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers told Time. "She can reach into people and find the human being inside, no matter how the rest of the world looks at them."

According to King, Clarke's compassion can be traced to her religious upbringing in North Carolina. "She does it because it's a calling," he said. "She's trying to stop the death penalty one human being at a time."

Clarke received her law degree from the University of South Carolina in 1977, and immediately began working for the Federal Defenders of San Diego, representing poor clients who couldn't afford their own counsel. She rose up the ranks, becoming executive director after just five years. She later served as the president of the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers, the largest U.S. organization of defense attorneys, and is now a professor of practice at Washington and Lee University School of Law, along with her husband.

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But she still tackles cases when asked. That happened last year, when no public defender in Arizona would touch Jared Lee Loughner, since one of his victims was the state's chief judge, John Roll. In August last year, Loughner plead guilty to 19 counts, and was sentenced to life without parole.

"Judy Clarke is almost invisible. She never seeks publicity and never attempts to try her cases in the court of public opinion," Frederick Leatherman, a former defense attorney and professed friend of Clarke's wrote on his blog after the ruling. "... Congratulations on your successful efforts to save Jared's life."

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