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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Cancer claims lawyer known for his passion

Defender of underdog, John Clark called a ‘fighter’

John Clark argues a traffic case in the Spokane Courthouse Annex on March 18.  (File)
John Clark argues a traffic case in the Spokane Courthouse Annex on March 18. (File)

The common man has lost one of his best advocates.

John Clark, a prominent local defense attorney, died Friday morning following a long battle with cancer. He was 58.

Services will be held at 6 p.m. Wednesday at CenterPlace at Mirabeau Point Park.

Earlier this year, the Spokane Bar Association honored Clark with the 2010 Smithmoore P. Myers Professionalism Award for Clark’s passion for helping – often without pay – people in legal trouble.

“There was once a comment made by Gandhi,” Robert Crary, Clark’s law partner of 30 years, told The Spokesman-Review in March, “that nobody is beyond redemption. It’s the way (Clark) looks at the world.”

Diagnosed in 2008 with cancer of the appendix, the disease spread to Clark’s bones. Yet he did not allow his illness to keep him from his work; he was busy until about six weeks ago, said Jan Lee, his paralegal for about 11 years.

“John had a passion for the law, which he always saw as the most noble profession,” Lee said Friday, “and he loved helping people.”

Clark died surrounded by family, his son Steven Clark said.

“We are trying to remember Dad as he was. He was always a fighter,” Clark said. “We want to remember him for the good things he did for his clients, the community and his family. We love him and we are going to miss him.”

When Spokane police arrested two dozen youths on July 4, 2007, in Riverfront Park, Clark offered free legal help and found other attorneys willing to work with the young people for free to get nearly all the charges dismissed. In June 2009, Clark likewise responded when Cheney police arrested 35 youths as they arrived at a party that had been advertised on Facebook.

“The minute he heard about it, he hustled out to the arraignment and offered to represent anyone who wanted an attorney for free,” Lee said in an earlier interview. Clark got charges dismissed for nearly all of the youths.

His health forced the former race car driver to decide what to do with the time he had left. Spurning any suggestions about sandy beaches or holing up in his cabin near Northport, Wash., Clark kept a busy schedule with his first love, the law, said his wife, Superior Court Judge Ellen Kalama Clark.

“He likes to see himself as protecting the underdog,” she said in March. “We would get calls at 2 or 3 in the morning from someone about a DUI or ‘cops are at my door.’ A lot of attorneys would say, ‘Call me later.’ But he would jump out of bed.

“He loves the challenge of that, the adrenaline. It drove me crazy for a while, but I got used to it.”

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