THE FIGHT OF HER LIFE; Marcia Clark -- Working Mother and O.J. Simpson's Lead Prosecutor -- Takes Her Place Among Other Maligned, Adored and Misunderstood Modern Women.
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THE FIGHT OF HER LIFE; Marcia Clark -- Working Mother and O.J. Simpson's
Lead Prosecutor -- Takes Her Place Among Other Maligned, Adored and
Misunderstood Modern Women.
By Lorraine Adams
Washington Post Staff Writer
Everyone is watching the lawyer with the large dark eyes, drawn by her
black skirt, which is pleated and swings, a strange thing in a courtroom of
papers and suits.
Even in a murder trial that is part melodrama, part circus, part
tragedy and all spectacle, Marcia Clark is an aberration -- so hard to
type, so vexingly original. She has encompassed so many images, all
conflicting: Topless on a beach in St. Tropez in some tabloid, vestal on the
cover of a paperback biography, pushy and dire as the prosecutor in our
living rooms. And last week, she played an anguished Fury, threatening to
capsize America's Trial if the judge didn't remove himself, only to retreat
and agree to a compromise that allowed it to lurch forward.
If Warhol were still here, she'd be silk-screened -- Jackie and
Marilyn's odd little sister. Even in the trial's dullest weeks, Clark is in
America's fluorescent maw -- clamored for, needed and despised. Outside the
courtroom, the faithful call out for autographs, crowding her into the
criminal courthouse elevators, looking, pressing, seeking an icon. They want
Super Woman. They must see Tough Cookie. Elsewhere, men call her a hopeless
flirt, a screeching wife, a bad mom, a shrill litigator. But she eludes them
all, vividly contradictory -- so sexy, so uptight, so serene, so snappish,
so tired, so busy.
Maybe all that can be safely said is this: Marcia Clark, 41, is a Los
Angeles County deputy district attorney, the leader of the prosecution team
in People v. O.J. Simpson, and the latest in a long line of women we love to
Her father is a sabra -- born and raised in Israel. Some say he is a
hard man. He is a scientist, brilliant, with a sharp tongue. He teased
Marcia's girlhood friends, making them shy. There was a joke that he could
trace his ancestors back to King David. It was funny, but there was
something else there, a residue of pride.
"My parents were Russian Jewish immigrants," said friend Roslyn Dauber,
who has known Clark since they were both 10. "The fact that she was half
Israeli always made her more exotic to me. She wasn't just this Jewish girl.
Marcia was this Israeli princess."
The names weren't quite regal: Marcia Rachel Kleks, daughter of Abraham
Kleks, a chemist for the Food and Drug Administration. He left Israel and
came to California for his education and degree, married a Jewish girl from
New York, stayed a federal bureaucrat a lifetime. They lived all over:
Staten Island, Maryland, Michigan, but California more than anywhere else.
Mom was a homemaker first. She was devoted to her two children, Marcia,
the older by six years, and her brother, more the introvert. He became an
The family has been frightened and overwhelmed by the media. Her
brother, who lives in Northridge, did not respond to a letter requesting an
interview. Her aunt, also in Los Angeles, insisted this reporter didn't
really work for The Washington Post and declined to be interviewed. Her
mother, who answered the door at a gray ranch house in Encino, said, "I have
no interest in giving you any information. Thank you very much for offering.
I have nothing to say at this time. Please respect my privacy." Clark
herself has given press conferences, posed for Esquire, Vanity Fair and the
New Yorker, but never granted an interview. Even Barbara Walters was rebuffed.
Interviews with old friends tell of a precocious teenager. Even in her
junior high years, Marcia Clark had the confidence, the Isadora Duncan brio,
that the tender nerdly girls so badly wanted. She was an early smoker, the
first with eye makeup. By 14, she seemed 24. She wore dangling earrings,
hip-huggers and clogs, her long brown hair straight, parted in the middle.
"I remember shawls and scarves. She had an eccentric, dramatic flair
about her. I always admired her from my little corner. I was so far out of
her league," recalled Suzanne Devlin, a police captain in Fairfax who
attended high school with Clark in Staten Island. "When she deigned to speak
to me I was usually flabbergasted." In drama club, Devlin played the
ingenues in "The Man Who Came to Dinner" and "Sabrina Fair." Marcia had
"At 14, I was not a sophisticated lady," Devlin said. "They had to
stuff me, teach me how to walk. That was something Marcia didn't have to do.
That's what made her unique. She walked in like that. What struck me about
her, being a local girl from Staten Island, was Marcia, at 14, was a
sophisticated person. She was mature. She could play women in their
mid-twenties with cigarette holders wearing devastating gowns." Clark was
talked about, and oddly lonely.
"But she didn't have a chance to adapt to life's changes, moving from
one place to another. She didn't have a lot of time to formulate close
relationships. You could feel that about her. She was very cautious about
getting involved in relationships, male or female. She wasn't one who could
be vulnerable easily. I felt that about her."
There have been, basically, three men in her life. There were husbands
from two marriages, both over, and a brother. He is very much beloved, the
one person, some say, she is closest to of all. The romances were another story.
"She always had very, very handsome boyfriends," said Dauber. "That was
the single distinguishing characteristic. That was the only common thread
that I know. She wasn't looking for a rich man or a powerful professional.
Horowitz was very attractive. He was tall and had black hair and piercing
blue eyes. He was also Israeli, and had a very commanding presence."
She was only 18 when she met Gabriel Horowitz. They were both students
at UCLA. She studied political science. Nothing so ordinary claimed him. He
assumed a Rhett Butlerish role as a professional backgammon player, teaching
celebrities and gambling. She nursed artsy dreams -- weight lifting, dancing
and folk ballet.
It is from this period, the late '70s, that the St-Tropez photographs,
published last February in the National Enquirer, came. The tabloid
delicately placed a black bar over Clark's bare chest, and her
ex-mother-in-law, who sold the pictures, explained that it was, after all, a
European beach, and that she was there with her husband.
"When I was in college, I was much more of an overt feminist than
Marcia was," Dauber said. "When she told me she was getting married, it
wasn't why him, but why at all? But there is this part of her that has
always wanted to be settled down that way. She was the only person I knew
during that time, at our age, who was getting married. That was an oddity.
It seemed like a very conventional thing to do at that time. And yet she'd
always seemed very unconventional in other ways."
It lasted five years. There was a quick Tijuana divorce.
Months later, she was married again, this time to another handsome man,
Gordon Clark. He was only 22. She was 27. "Gordon is also a very
good-looking guy. He was much sweeter and more nurturing than her first
husband. He's younger, but he's not a stupid person. I always thought they
were pretty compatible," Dauber said. "He was definitely still in college
and she was working and I think that made him uncomfortable. He wanted to
get out of school and make money. He didn't seem babyish. I think compared
to her first husband he was more mature as a person."
It has been reported that both Horowitz and Gordon Clark were devotees
of Scientology, the controversial self-improvement movement founded by
science fiction writer L. Ron Hubbard. But Clark's friends say she never
was. And Dauber isn't even sure about Horowitz. Gordon Clark, at 22, wasn't
really serious about it, friends say, even though the marriage ceremony was
performed by Bruce Roman, an orthodontist who was a lay Scientology minister.
"Marcia wasn't into that and after they got married, he had nothing to
do with it," Dauber said. "They had a very brief ceremony. It was this guy
who was minister of Scientology, it wasn't too religious, just something
about these two souls chose to hang out together. Then he dropped out of the
Good trial lawyers can be like good tenors. They are temperamental.
They are stylists. They are convinced that their performances win cases.
Some are folksy, a la Gerry Spence, who invited juries to put their feet up
and listen to a story. Clark is more like the Green Bay Packers sweep. The
opposition knew the obliterating play was on the way, but Lombardi called it
again and again. Clark, too, is obdurate, unrelenting.
That is the courtroom style, but not the woman. Inside, she is churning
like an electric blender.
"Marcia, in trial, was somebody I used to avoid," said her former boss,
Deputy Los Angeles District Attorney John Lynch. "We used to have a route we
could go to duck Marcia. She would get nuts. It was like you had a tractor
beam, if you got pulled in her office, you'd be in there for hours. She had
the energy of a hummingbird.
"Everything is magnified. The slightest bit of bad news from the
courtroom means he's not guilty. With her, the highs are Everest, the lows
are Death Valley. . . . And Marcia doesn't hide much. Marcia, if she beat
you in Jeopardy, she'd want to beat you at tiddlywinks. She is competitive,
openly competitive. In fact, Marcia's one of the most competitive people
I've ever met."
She started unassumingly enough, with a law degree from Southwestern
University Law School in Los Angeles. She had two years in private practice,
marked only by her distaste for writing an appellate brief that freed a
guilty man. That convinced her she could never be anything but a prosecutor.
She joined the Los Angeles District Attorney's Office in 1981.
Her lawyering life yields many anecdotes about her Britannica mind.
Fellow prosecutor Susan Gruber, who met her in the mid-'80s, recalled
working downtown with her. "The reason I met her was because of her
knowledge of case law. I was in trial and nobody has a mind like Marcia. She
has a fabulous, phenomenal memory of case law, citations, case names."
Clark was among a group of female prosecutors who became friends during
the 1980s, including Lynn Reed Baragona, Susan Gruber and Pam Bozanich.
Gruber and Baragona are still close to Clark, but Bozanich, who was on the
team that tried Lyle and Erik Menendez for the murder of their parents, had
a falling-out with her. Bozanich, according to Deputy District Attorney
Sterling Norris, felt Clark had been too critical of her handling of the
case. Baragona, who now works part time, still stands in awe of Clark. "I
would have been in the corner with a drool cup," said Baragona of the
Simpson courtroom. "Not Marcia."
Clark and Bozanich were the only two women to make it to Special
Trials, a unit of fewer than a dozen lawyers. Now called Major Crimes, the
unit is reserved for the highest profile, most complicated cases, usually
"You really have to want to be in that unit," Gruber said. "It's a
completely all-encompassing unit, the cases that you do are just
overwhelming in terms of workload. As a female prosecutor and mother, a lot
of people, maybe they don't want that burden. But Marcia loved the
obstacles, loved the obstacles."
One woman who faced her, defense attorney Madelynn Kopple, found her
"thorough, very thorough." But she found herself under the Clark steamroller
once during a trial when Kopple couldn't keep back tears during emotional
testimony about her client. Clark demanded that the judge bar her from
crying. "That was kind of a low blow," Kopple said.
The men who have observed Clark -- bosses, colleagues and opponents --
have widely varied views. Sterling Norris, a generation older, mostly her
boss and briefly her employee, found her "enthusiastic" but inexperienced.
John Lynch, who was her boss for years, saw, better than most, her
Then there were the defense attorneys on the opposite side of the
aisle, who found her a "whining" minx with an uplifted nostril and a
rehearsed hurt look.
John Martel, a trial attorney, author and prosecution consultant on
Simpson, says his new novel is about a male version of Clark. "Trial lawyers
are a neurotic bunch," he says. "We are driven. We wouldn't do this insane
enterprise for a living if we weren't missing something. The character in my
book has this distorted point of view. He feels like if he can only win
enough cases, and achieve enough, he will fill all the holes in his heart."
Former prosecutor Harvey Giss may be the originator and best salesman
of the tough-cookie image. They met on Clark's first big case, in which she
was his second chair. The defendant was James Hawkins, a man Giss describes
as "a counterfeit folk hero." The pair won a murder conviction after six
months of jury selection and 13 months of trial. They ate lunch together
every day, but Giss says he never knew a thing about Clark's personal life.
The rumors about them as a couple, nonetheless, flew. "I'd say, `I don't
think there's a way medical science has found for a barracuda and a shark to
mate,' " Giss said.
Giss made it clear that he found stories about a softer Clark, and talk
about her empathy for victims, to be horse manure. He talked about her
gutter mouth and salty sense of humor, about her drinking and smoking with
detectives. He left out that she drank Glenlivet, not Rolling Rock, and that
her cigarettes were Dunhills. Clark was never profiled before the Simpson
case, and in the early going she clung to the image Giss gave her. It was
better than flirt.
But Clark has come to bemoan the prevalence of the Giss portrait, which
led to such profiles as "True Grit" in the New Yorker and Jimmy Breslin's
gruff paean in Esquire. She told Baragona a few weeks ago: "If they only
talk to Harvey they'll think I eat nails for breakfast."
Some saw beyond the smoke and liquor, among them John Lynch, who
supervised her for four years. "Marcia was in a business coming up that was
dominated clearly by men," he said. "She was one of those who she was going
to do what she needed to do without anybody changing the rules or lowering
the basket. I think she may have over-compensated to show she could be as
tough as anybody else. Part of that you see when Marcia gets caught between
the little girl giggle, finger in the cheek, gee folks, and Marcia the
shark. I don't find the middle range with her. She is either coquettish or
Clark had her first baby well into her thirties, and her second almost
at 40. She waited, says friend Dauber, for more financial security. But she
always wanted children.
In 1993, Clark gave up trial work for a supervisory job. Her sons were
1 and 3. She loved being a mother, friends say. It was all connected, they
conjecture, to the part of her that had been protective and loving toward
her younger brother. But other things in her life were wrong.
Around the same time Dauber's house burned down. Dauber, a documentary
filmmaker, had not been in close touch with Clark. She learned who her real
friends were, and Clark, it turned out, was one of them. "I can't tell you
what I owe her," Dauber says now. Clark brought her boxes of towels and
clothes. Dauber spent many a weekend at her old friend's house, both of them
sleepless, talking into the night.
"She was doing the administrative job. She was really unhappy. She
didn't know if it was her job or her marriage or both, and she was in a lot
of turmoil. She was really down.
"She had these young children and a lot of responsibility and it was
really, really hard. I think she had all the normal fears of could she make
it alone or not, and what that would be like, and how Gordon would take it
-- they're both very attached to the kids."
The decision to separate was agonizing. The decision to go back to
trial work was easier.
"She felt she had to work full time anyway, she wasn't getting up in
the morning to do something interesting, she was getting really depressed,
she felt it would be better for everybody if she were doing what she liked,"
Dauber recalled. "She felt like if she was happy in her work, she'd be
happier for the kids."
The details of that divorce, filed days before the murders of Nicole
Brown Simpson and Ronald L. Goldman, created a media frenzy within a media
frenzy during the trial. At one point, Clark filed a motion asking the court
to force Gordon to reinstate the support payments she said he had
unilaterally halved to $500. With her $96,000 salary, she made roughly
double that of her husband, a computer programmer. But she also had the
children much more than half the time. Gordon Clark took some cheap shots in
the filings. He made it sound as if his wife wanted more money for high
heels and hair spray for her new-found celebrity. He whined about all the
bad publicity he was getting.
In his filings, Gordon Clark complained: "Leslie Abramson and Gloria
Allred appeared on Which Way LA a radio program and speculated that I was
possibly some kind of child molester and that my motivation might be just to
`hit' petitioner with the custody motion in order to get out of my support
obligation. Cokie Roberts appeared on This Week with David Brinkley and
implied, strongly, that my case was being run by O.J. Simpson's defense team."
The filings also said his ex-wife spent at most one hour a day with her
children. Worse, she wouldn't let him spend more than Tuesday and Thursday
evenings and every other weekend with them. They were left with the nanny,
he said, "starved for affection." The filings, if they are to be believed,
show a savage Marcia Clark. He described how one night last December he told
her he wanted the children more, and "she told me she would `have my ass if
I tried to do this' and would throw me in Court so fast it would `make my
head spin.' "
Another night, during the trial, in violation of their agreement, he
kept the kids overnight. "At 12:25 a.m., the phone rang. It was the
petitioner who had just arrived home. She started yelling at me and asked me
what I thought I was doing. She told me I had `no right' to have the kids
overnight. . . . She threatened me that she would `get an injunction'
against me to limit me from seeing our kids. She told me she wished I would
`die and drop off the face of the earth.' "
Clark does have a nanny, whom she has had to supplement with a
babysitter during the Simpson trial. But she has not, her friends insist,
given up on the time-consuming monotony of mothering, even during Simpson.
There are the joys of changing diapers during the 18th replay of "The Lion
King," the zoo trips, the amusement parks, the sandbox.
"The 3-year-old is a handful," Baragona said. "She reads to them every
night, she was reading `The Rescuers' to them last night when I called and
she said one more page, then she calls back and starts talking to me about
EDTA [a blood preservative at issue in the trial]. The weekends she has the
kids, she has the kids, she has to take care of them."
Baragona, perhaps more than most people, sees the Clark who is hanging
on by a thread. It's the Marcia Clark with credit card debts, who had to
borrow $26,000 from her 401(k) for "a medical-dental catastrophe." It's the
Marcia Clark who shops Price Club, who sometimes only makes it to court in
borrowed suits. There were exclamations when, in the divorce filings, she
said she had to spend $1,500 on new shoes and suits for the trial. But she
bought five suits and a stack of shoes for that money. That wouldn't even
pay for one of defense attorney Robert Shapiro's Armanis.
At dinner parties, at Beverly Hills lunches, in legal circles, all
around Los Angeles, the consensus is that Marcia Clark is bombing in the
Even Giss, who thinks so highly of her, will only say she has been
"steady." Martel, who has served as consultant to the prosecution, contends
her shining moments are ahead of her. Sterling Norris is toughest of all.
"She has the inexperience of feeling she has to attack everything that
moves," he says.
Watched in court, Clark seems made of adrenaline. Her hands are
frantic. She hits the lectern more than anyone else. Her voice can be sober
and hard to hear sometimes, but it all too often ranges into sarcasm. She
objects at times when sitting back might look more generous. Her face
betrays every vibration of anger or frustration. About her only restrained
cross-examinations were her treatment a month ago of Simpson's daughter and
mother. Sometimes it seems that her only concession to the thespian arts is
her sugary camaraderie with Johnnie L. Cochran Jr. or the fulsome jocularity
she uses with co-counsel Christopher Darden. She is often whispering in
Darden's ear, one eye watching the audience watching her. It leaves her
looking peacockish. For all his preening, it is a mistake Cochran never
makes. And the jury, lawyers say, sees all of this.
"I think she would have been a good prosecutor in this case if she'd
had five more years' experience. She has never had a high-profile case, not
only in terms of publicity, but in terms of intricacy," Norris says. "She is
a prosecutor who has great expectations, but I think she was thrust into
this before she was ready, and whether the decisions being made are hers or
partly hers, the total thing is a disaster."
Clark's previous cases were far easier. The defendants were outcasts --
poor, disadvantaged and vicious. There was the man who sodomized and killed
elderly Asian women. There were the two men who shotgunned two people to
death in a black church in south-central Los Angeles. In all these cases,
the hallmarks of a Clark prosecution -- five hours of sleep, hands-on
knowledge (she has taken Baragona on searches for murder weapons in
shrubbery) and preparation bordering on the maniacal -- brought her convictions.
The high points of many of her previous trials, those who worked on the
opposite side of the aisle say, depended on her ability to re-create the
victims' plight and to keep whatever niggling nuances there were neatly
ironed away. Her fidelity to detail in those cases seemed more conscientious
Few have more regard for her than Danna Schaeffer, Rebecca Schaeffer's
mother. Rebecca was a beautiful young television actress who was stalked and
killed in 1989 by Robert John Bardo, whom Clark put in prison for life. To
Mrs. Schaeffer, Clark was a gentle, protective advocate who was capable in
crisis. After the trial was over, Clark sent a letter to the Schaeffers,
which Danna Schaeffer still keeps. One of the paragraphs says: "I just want
you to know how deeply I sense, empathize and personally experience your
heartbreak at the loss of Rebecca. I never knew her, yet I mourn her and
feel a shattering pain as though she'd been my sister."
Focus groups conducted by the prosecution before the trial showed just
what Clark, to this day, is up against. For those people -- mostly whites --
who were predisposed to believing Simpson guilty, Clark was seen as a
capable, tough woman who would stand up to the defense. For those people --
mostly blacks -- who were predisposed to believe Simpson innocent , Clark
was seen as attacking him, without cause.
"Marcia is a very bright, determined, headstrong kind of a person,"
said Donald Vinson, the consultant who conducted the focus groups. "But to a
lot of blacks in this country who feel that O.J. is being victimized by the
white establishment and the court system, Marcia in that sense could not
have been a better candidate for prosecuting him, to complete their
perspective. She was absolutely cast perfectly if that's what you want to
Through the Looking Glass
Clark calls herself Alice in Wonderland now. The tabloids have dug up
neighbors who say she was battered. They have interviewed people who have
never met her but give glowing interviews of her childhood. She's supposed
to be friends with Roseanne but has never met her.
Los Angeles is always abuzz with talk of her social life, but friends
say the truth is she has gone to only two Hollywood parties since the trial
began. One, at producer Ray Stark's house, was at the invitation of the
district attorney's public information officer, Suzanne Childs. The other
was a benefit this month at Carrie Fisher's house for battered women. It was
hardly glamorous; Clark brought her kids.
The other day the tabloids reported Clark was supposed to have had a
date, but that was a dinner with her brother. In reality, Baragona said, she
hasn't had a date in months. That Hollywood producer she was rumored to be
seeing amounted to one date, and then nothing. "She would love to meet
somebody," Baragona acknowledged.
In their nightly phone conversations, Baragona tells Clark to stop
reading the newspapers, to trust her instincts. It is a message harder and
harder for Clark to hear. "She's really tired," says Baragona.
A few weeks ago, Clark finished an exhausting week in court and
launched into organizing a Sunday birthday party for one of the children. It
was a frenetic affair, reported Baragona, who spent the day at Clark's and
was left "with a wet washcloth" on her head and "a severe migraine" in a
state of near-collapse.
Not the prosecutor. Clark, the next day, was in court, back in the
moving camera's lens.
Copyright 1995 The Washington Post