Judge Clark, from a Law Clerk's View
Judge Patricia Ann Clark left the bankruptcy court bench in May ending a distinguished 26 year career as a bankruptcy jurist respected throughout the country. I had the honor to clerk for Judge Clark for the better part of two years in the early 1980's. It was a privilege to have worked for such an extraordinary person.
Judge Clark was a wonderful mentor. At the time that I clerked for her, the Bankruptcy Code was still a relatively new enactment having replaced the old Bankruptcy Act. Many of the legal issues to come before the bankruptcy judges at the time were matters of first impression. Judge Clark thoroughly enjoyed the challenge of analyzing and resolving these matters. Judge Clark has the gift that most exceptional lawyers have of instinctively identifying the key issue to be addressed in complex matters. It was not uncommon for her to raise issues from the bench during hearings that the participants had not seen or appreciated. Judge Clark's intellectual abilities were apparent both from her courtroom participation in hearings and in her written opinions. Her opinions were well reasoned and written in a distinctive, clear, and easy style. It is satisfying to have been able to assist Judge Clark in drafting those opinions and helping her prepare for upcoming hearings.
As much as I admired her as a judge, I admire Judge Clark even more as a person. She is a caring, compassionate, and thoughtful person. Judge Clark's courtroom demeanor often masked her concern, but her compassion for the parties appearing before her was always apparent during discussions in chambers about pending matters. Anyone who knows Judge Clark knows of her love of animals. I will not forget the cash collateral hearing early in my clerkship which was quickly concluded when Judge Clark realized that the usual arguments about budgets and the debtor's need for cash affected the debtor's ability to provide feed for his cattle herd. The debtor was expeditiously given the right to use cash collateral but did not leave the courtroom until he had satisfied Judge Clark that he had a viable plan for getting his cattle fed immediately. On a personal front, I still find touching Judge Clark's insistence that I bring my dog to chambers for a week so my beloved companion would not be alone at home during her convalescence from surgery.
Judge Clark is a delightful storyteller, perhaps at her best when recounting her travel exploits with self-deprecating humor. It is often obvious to me, if not to Judge Clark, that many of the unusual or difficult situations she encounters in her travels are created, at least in part, because it has not occurred to her over the years that her jurisdiction and authority as the final arbiter with airline employees and hotel staffs is not worldwide.
I am proud to be able say Judge Clark was my mentor and is my friend. Her departure from the bench is a time to celebrate the accomplishments of her 26 year career as a bankruptcy judge, a career that will leave a positive mark on this bankruptcy court and bankruptcy law for years into the future.
Hal Lewis was a Law Clerk for Judge Clark from 1981 to 1983. He is now a partner at Lindquist Vennum & Christensen, PLLP.