By Emily Hamilton
“Marcia Clark gets a new hairdo and stuns the courtroom. The District Attorney has never looked more RUFF!” –The National Examiner
It was 1994. Heisman winner and NFL Hall of Famer O.J. Simpson had been charged with the brutal slaughtering of his ex-wife, Nicole Brown Simpson, and Ronald Goldman. Instead, America chose to focus on the lead prosecutor’s marital status and choice of hairstyle.
Amy Taylor, an attorney at Kane Russell Coleman and Logan, said the O.J. Simpson trial was tried largely in a gender-biased mode.
“Marcia Clark was demeaned, and as a female attorney, I resented this for her and for others of my gender as well as in my profession,” Taylor said.
Marcia Clark graduated from the University of California Los Angeles with a degree in political science, and then went on to earn her law degree in 1979 from Southwestern University Law School. She began her career as a prosecutor for the Los Angeles District Attorney in 1981. Thirteen years later, Clark would take on the case of a lifetime. But did she bite off more than she could chew?
Pitching against a stacked lineup of high-profile male defense attorneys appeared to be a lose-lose situation for Clark, who faced both verbal attacks based on her appearance and criticisms of her ability to prosecute an alleged murderer.
Brie Sherwin, an associate professor of law at Texas Tech University, said this type of mistreatment is common for women of any profession, especially once the media get involved.
“Certainly, the other defense attorneys had enough baggage of their own,” Sherwin said. “But, I don’t ever recall a focus on their appearance as opposed to their performance in the courtroom.”
As if this scrutiny wasn’t enough to encourage someone to throw in the towel, the National Enquirer hit Clark below the belt in February 1995, when the tabloid published topless photographs of Clark on vacation with her first husband, Gabriel Horowitz, in 1979. It was later revealed that Marcia’s ex-mother-in-law, Clara Horowitz leaked the photos to the tabloid.
After this, Clark’s reputation was tarnished and her privacy was subsequently inexistent.
Additionally, Clark was dealing with time-consuming family issues of her own. She was fighting an ugly custody battle over her two children, as a result of her divorce from her second husband, Gordon Clark.
After the nude photos were published, Clark’s divorce became a popular topic of household conversations, and her ability to parent her sons was called into question.
Catherine Christopher, an assistant professor of law at Texas Tech, said when she receives disparate treatment, she senses it is largely because she is a mother. There is an assumption she cannot or will not work long hours because she has to get home to her children, she said.
“I once had a senior lawyer say, compassionately, ‘Well, I understand. You’re a mom-lawyer,’” Christopher said. “I just can’t imagine that same person making allowances for ‘dad-lawyers.’”
The attacks on Marcia Clark during the high-profile trial led the Baltimore Sun to publish an article titled “Marcia Clark’s Trials Have Now Begun Outside the Courtroom.”
Susan Reimer, the author of the article, wrote that Clark seemed to be virtually unaffected by working in a predominately male profession until the Simpson trial.
“The earliest profiles of Clark described her as a foul-mouthed pool player who traded whiskey shots with cops in her off hours,” Reimer wrote in the article. “Her boss couldn’t say for sure that she had a family. A sharp mind and a sharper courtroom tongue. Just the kind of pit bull to put up against Simpson’s expensive legal talent.”
However, the match of a female prosecutor against the likes and egos of Johnnie Cochran, Robert Kardashian, Alan Dershowitz, Robert Shapiro, Barry Sheck, and F. Lee Bailey looked like a present-day battle between David and Goliath.
In her 1997 book, Without A Doubt, Clark addressed the attacks on her character, writing about the public humiliation she faced within, as well as outside the walls of Judge Lance Ito’s courtroom.
“I overestimated my own strength,” Clark wrote. “No sooner had I taken my seat at the counsel table, I felt the tears welling up in my eyes. Lance must have caught my distress, because, in a singular act of compassion, he quickly managed to recess court for the day.”
According to an article published in TIME Magazine in May 1995, drama was common in the courtroom during the trial. After a testimony from criminalist Collin Yamauchi went awry, the prosecution attempted to minimize the damage as the jury was escorted out of the courtroom. As Clark tried to pick up the pieces, Simpson’s attorney, Johnnie Cochran, addressed Judge Ito and referred to Clark as “hysterical.”
TIME Magazine reported that Clark fired back at Cochran, calling his remark sexist and unacceptable. It was also reported that O.J. Simpson was seen laughing while witnessing this exchange of words.
Darby Dickerson, a professor of law at Texas Tech, said Clark’s personal issues were irrelevant in the case.
“Personally, unless an issue relates to the attorney’s ability to serve, it should not be relevant,” Dickerson said. “Examples of personal matters that might be relevant would be a conflict of interest or misconduct that would be disqualifying.”
On October 3, 1995, America held its breath as the verdict was deliberated. The jury delivered its unanimous decision: not guilty.
Clark told Rolling Stone the verdict was “physically painful” to hear.
In her memoir, Clark wrote that she was overcome with guilt after Simpson’s acquittal. She abandoned her career as a special trials lawyer and began work as a legal analyst and fiction novelist.
“I felt like I’d let everyone down,” she wrote. “The Goldmans. The Browns. My team. The country.”
“I really didn’t want the spotlight, but there was no way to escape it,” Clark said. “And there was real hostility there. People would try to give me advice like, ‘You shouldn’t come across tough. Wear pastels. Talk softer.’ I thought, ‘So I’m going to present that I’m someone else? Then I’m some cream puff who can’t take the heat? There was no winning this.”
Clark went on to say that the media attention affected her more professionally than personally.
“I hated the way it impacted the case – the way it impacted the witnesses,” she said in the interview. “Everyone forgot Ron and Nicole, and it became this enormous circus. That was terrible.”
Evidently, no amount of preparation, preponderance of evidence, or research could have prepared Marcia Clark for the sudden and undue importance given to her looks and personal life.
More than 20 years after one of the most public trials of all time, do people still remember Clark’s seven-hour long closing arguments or the prosecution’s lapse in judgment when presenting evidence? Or do they remember Marcia Clark’s perm?
Shae Keefe, an attorney at Kane Russell Coleman and Logan, said she believes the odds were stacked against Clark from the beginning.
“I think the media sensationalized many aspects, and they saw her as an easy target,” Keefe said. “Of course, they were going to try to attack her credibility in any way possible. The media is run by Hollywood, and she was trying to convict a celebrity. It was an uphill battle from the get-go.”
“The People v. O.J. Simpson: American Crime Story,” which aired on FX networks in February, depicted the trial from beginning to end. In episode six titled, “Marcia, Marcia, Marcia,” Clark, played by Sarah Paulson, undergoes a makeover to present a more aesthetically pleasing front to the public.
The series was a detailed look into the sexist cultural norms of the early 1990s. Clark told People magazine that watching the series was brutal but hopes it will also be eye-opening.
“People will talk. That’s a good thing,” Clark said. “Sexism, no one wanted to talk about it. The ‘S’ word never happened.”
Although there are still negative stereotypes that go hand in hand with being a female attorney, Sarah Judge, an attorney at Kane Russell Coleman and Logan, said she has often been able to use her gender to her advantage.
“Oftentimes in depositions, I would work to set people at ease and then would use that trust to learn things they would not otherwise say,” Judge said.
Tayler Green, a Juris Doctor candidate at the Southern Methodist University School of Law, said she believes women are treated differently than men, regardless of their occupation.
“Even if I were an aspiring professor, doctor, or businesswoman, the gender issue would still be prevalent,” Green said. “I am inspired to do everything I can to help narrow the gap. First, I should remember my worth. Second, I should not acquiesce to any sexism.”
Melody Wang, an attorney at Kane Russell Coleman and Logan, said she has had primarily positive experiences as a female attorney, and most of her clients and colleagues are very professional.
“I think as women continue to do good work, support each other and fight for equality on a daily basis through a variety of methods, the tide will continue to change,” Wang said.