Donald Cameron Clark / Louis Goodman – Podcast Transcript


Louis Goodman

Hello, and welcome to Love Thy Lawyer, we talk to real lawyers about their lives in and out of the practice of law, how they got to be lawyers, and what their experiences have been. I’m Louis Goodman, the host of the show, and yes, I’m a lawyer, nobody’s perfect. He began his professional career in a firm that was started by Abraham Lincoln’s son. He believes in the power of storytelling. He established a constitutional right of clergy to solemn eyes, same sex marriages in the state of North Carolina. He has just published a book, Summary Judgment, the documents his successful effort to overturn an Alabama death sentence and gain the release of a clearly guilty inmate. Donald Cameron Clark, welcome to Love Thy Lawyer.



Donald Cameron Clark

Thanks, Louis. I’m pleased to be invited to be on your program.



Louis Goodman

It’s an honor to have you. You are a very accomplished attorney. You’ve written a very compelling book. And again, I’ll just mention it’s called Summary Judgment. And it’s not about procedural matters specifically, but it is about your work in gaining the overturning of a death penalty case in the state of Alabama. And it involves Jeff Sessions among other people. And we’re going to get to that in a few minutes. But first, tell me where is your office right now?



Donald Cameron Clark

I’m in the suburbs of Chicago. Louis.



Louis Goodman

Where are you from originally?



Donald Cameron Clark

I was born in Virginia, but largely raise and except for undergraduate and law school. That pretty much resided in the suburbs of Chicago most of my life.



Louis Goodman

Is that where you went to high school?



Donald Cameron Clark

Yes, I did. I went to Nuture East High School. That’s in Winnetka, Illinois,



Louis Goodman

After you graduated, and you left. We’re not going to go to college. Where did you go?



Donald Cameron Clark

I went to Williams College. That’s a small liberal arts school in the upper northwest corner of Massachusetts, right on the Massachusetts Vermont border in Williamstown, Massachusetts.





Louis Goodman

It was an all boys school at that time, wasn’t it?



Donald Cameron Clark

It had just started turning co Ed. In fact, my class was the second class to include women. But Williams did it gradually, rather than just immediately go to kind of a 5050 demographic, they started the in slowly increasing the number of women in the class and I think my class was about 2/3 to 1/3.



Louis Goodman

Did you enjoy your experience at Williams?



Donald Cameron Clark

Very much. So I had a great education. And it’s also where I met my wife.



Louis Goodman

Well, so despite the, I don’t know, what should I say poor percentages, you did well for yourself.



Donald Cameron Clark

I met a wonderful woman. In fact, she was going to Wellesley College. And that’s where she graduated from, an all women’s school. But she elected to take her junior year as a transfer student to Williams. And so we met during that junior year of college when she was on campus.



Louis Goodman

After you graduated from Williams, you ultimately went to law school. Did you take some time off or did you go directly to law school?



Donald Cameron Clark

I went directly to law school. I went to Rutgers Law School. My wife was seeking a Master’s Degree in Library Science. And she got that during the same time, also at Rutgers.



Louis Goodman

And you would Rutgers Camden, is that correct?



Donald Cameron Clark

Correct.



Louis Goodman

How was your experience in law school at Rutgers?









Donald Cameron Clark

I enjoyed it a great deal. The professors were very good. And over the years, they developed the wonderful clinic program and it gave me a great foundation. And I’m very much grateful to the legal training that I got there.



Louis Goodman

After you graduated from law school, you headed back to the Chicago area and as I mentioned in the intro, you went to work for a very old established firm there that in fact one of the founding partners was Abraham Lincoln son.



Donald Cameron Clark

I started my legal career at the Law Firm of ICM Lincoln Veal. Edward Isom was the son of a rock, Vermont Supreme Court Justice. The Lincoln was Robert Todd Lincoln, the only surviving son of President Abraham Lincoln.



Louis Goodman

How long did you work there?



Donald Cameron Clark

I worked there from 1979, when I had graduated from law school, until the unfortunate demise of the law firm in 1988.



Louis Goodman

When did you first start thinking about being a lawyer and saying, Hey, you know, I really want to go to law school?



Donald Cameron Clark

I wanted to be a lawyer and a trial lawyer in particular since the seventh grade. I do recall that even as a young person, I enjoyed making arguments and persuading people to see things the way I did. And I was very firm in my aspiration to eventually become a trial lawyer.



Louis Goodman

So what sort of work did you do at the firm in Chicago?



Donald Cameron Clark

I was largely representing the legal interests of significant corporations in Chicago.



Louis Goodman

And was that litigation work? Or was it primarily transactional?



Donald Cameron Clark

Yes, I was doing litigation from the very beginning. That’s what I wanted to do. And I was fortunate enough to be able to do that my entire career.



Louis Goodman

At some point, you found the case involving Tommy Hamilton, involving the murder of Lester Wood, which is the subject of your book Summary Judgment. And I’m wondering how you found that case?



Donald Cameron Clark

American Bar Association created the death penalty representation project. And they sent out a letter to all their members of the litigation section of the ABA saying basically, we understand some of our members are in favor of the death penalty, some are opposed to it. But the one thing that as lawyers we ought to all embrace is that if a legal remedy is available to you, you are having meaningful way to pursue it. I was accepted into the program and then told that my client was Tommy Hamilton, who was on death row in Alabama, having been convicted of a murder committed during the course of a robbery.



Louis Goodman

Now, what’s interesting is that the county where this took place is primarily a black county, but Tommy Hamilton is white.



Donald Cameron Clark

Tommy Hamilton was white, his victim, Lehman Wood was white, pretty much all the principles involved were white.



Louis Goodman

Tell us a little bit about the relationship between Tommy Hamilton and Lehman Wood. Tell us a little bit about who each of them were.



Donald Cameron Clark

Sure. Tommy was a young man who was had just turned 20 at the time, the time being July 11, of 1984. And he’d been involved in some petty criminal enterprises, none of them involving violence of any kind. But he eventually got convicted of a third degree burglary charge. And so in serving his sentence, he was put into a basically a work release program. He was the nominated a trustee in Alabama. And the end as a result of that he would work for government officials, they’d be assigned tasks to perform during the daytime. He was assigned the task of working to Lehman would who is a county official, he was in charge of Emergency Management Operations for the county. And so Tommy had done his work release program and when he was paroled from that, he then continued to do odd jobs for Wood. So Wood was basically Tommy’s boss for the short period of time that they knew each other before July of 1984, which is the date when Tommy shot and killed Lehman Wood.



Louis Goodman

Mr. Wood was really very prominent citizen in the county. He had been, I don’t know if I say a war hero, but he had certainly served very honorably in the Bomber Command during World War Two and had flown combat missions. So, you know, Mr. Wood was really a very prominent official.



Donald Cameron Clark

He was, he was given a Purple Heart for his service because he was shut down during the course of his service to World War Two. He was a prominent businessman before he assumed his role with county government who served on the local school board, and so was well known and well liked by that community.



Louis Goodman

So what happened? Tommy killed Mr. Wood. I mean, it’s undisputed that he did.



Donald Cameron Clark

It’s undisputed that he did. In fact, at his trial, Tommy took the stand and testified, and testified that he killed Wood but he did so in self defense.



Louis Goodman

And was there any evidence to back that up?



Donald Cameron Clark

Well, in my opinion, no, absolutely none. But that was his story. And that’s the story that he and his trial lawyers took to the jury. And what we discovered the truth to be is that Tommy had an older sister 27 year old , Janice. And Janice had a romantic relationship with Wood. And Wood had shortly before the time of the killing broken that relationship off. Janice was seeking some revenge, and basically concocted the plan to have her brother Tommy kill and rob Lehman Wood.



Louis Goodman

Obviously Tommy Hamilton was convicted.



Donald Cameron Clark

He was. Tommy was the first one to be tried. The people that were actually present for the actual robbery murder were Tommy and his sister, Janice and Debbie. Tommy had just one week before the killing, married 15 year old wife, Debbie. And the three of them along with Janice’s nine year old son were all present for the robbery/murder.



Louis Goodman

And we know that Tommy was sentenced to death. What happened to the other co defendants.



Donald Cameron Clark

Tommy was tried first, he was convicted and sentenced to death. Debbie, who was 16 at the time she was going to go to trial was obviously scared out of her mind that she might face a similar fate. She had court appointed defense counsel. And they ended up entering into a plea agreement where she pled guilty to murder as opposed to capital murder, and agreed to the maximum sentence for murder, which is life in prison with possibility of parole. Janice was the only one of the three to retain a private attorney to represent her. She went to trial and was convicted of manslaughter and sentenced to 10 years in prison.



Louis Goodman

Now in working on the case, who else worked with you on the case?



Donald Cameron Clark

I had a very close attorney friend at the law firm Luca Grand who agreed to serve on the representation with me. He was also with me at the Law Firms in Chicago. But we told the ABA that we felt we desperately needed to have local counsel assist us for logistical reasons, if nothing else, and they explained to us that they had tried to get an Alabama attorney to be lead counsel for Tommy Hamilton. But given the stigma that attaches to representing someone that’s been convicted and sentenced to death, especially in Alabama, it was extremely difficult, and that’s why they turned to lawyers in Chicago to see if they would volunteer. Nevertheless, I insisted we needed someone local to help and they eventually told me that they had found a lawyer willing to do that they introduced me to Lynn McKenzie. Then they more fully introduced me to her as Sister Lynn McKenzie, a Benedictine nun, who was also a practicing attorney. And so she became part of our legal defense team as well.



Louis Goodman

Who was the opposition for the government?



Donald Cameron Clark

So in these post conviction proceedings, the states are represented by their attorney general’s office. And in fact, especially in a state like Alabama, which is one of the leading death penalty states in the country, they have an entire section of the attorney general’s office that’s dedicated to representing the state in these post conviction proceedings to attempt to ensure that these death sentences are affirmed and carried out.



Louis Goodman

Where did Jeff Sessions fit into this?



Donald Cameron Clark

At the time that we reached the final stages of our case, Jeff Sessions got elected as the Attorney General of Alabama. That’s where he served before he eventually became a Federal Court Judge, before he became a Senator from Alabama and certainly before he ended up serving as Attorney General of the United States in the Trump Administration. So we had Jeff Sessions overseeing the Attorney General’s Office, in the final stages of our representation in the Tommy Hamilton case.



Louis Goodman

How did you find practicing criminal law in Alabama compared with being a business litigator in Chicago? You went to the clerk’s office just to get some documentation and your experience in dealing with the County Clerk’s Office and I’m wondering if you can tell us a little bit about that?



Donald Cameron Clark

Well, I marked myself in as a 30 some odd year old lawyer into the small County Clerk’s Office to get the file. And I have to confess I was more than abrupt and direct in my requests ordering on demands for the County Clerk. And that’s just not the way you conduct business in the south. And Sister Lynn and I, God bless her, she pulled me aside and just literally said, Donald, you can’t do that. You’ve got that howdy with people. And she’s schooled me on the subtle art of Southern persuasion and Southern social habits. And I was appropriately cast eyes and realize that I would get a lot further with honey than with a stick in rural Alabama.



Louis Goodman

Well bless your heart.



Donald Cameron Clark

So what we had discovered is that this cellmate of Tommy had actually perjured himself in testifying against Tommy, and that it was purchased perjury. that is what law enforcement knowingly put this individual on is a witness against Tommy, and got him to give false testimony that Tommy had confessed. Not only confessed to the elements of the crime, but had basically bragged about it, said he was glad he had done it said he would do it again without hesitation. And this is the evidence that got presented during the guilt phase of Tommy’s trial. We also discovered that Tommy was handicapped in his legal defense because his lead trial attorney was a suffering alcoholic at the time, and the co-counsel defending him that had been appointed was only two years out of law school. And neither of these two gentlemen had done much of anything with respect to Tommy’s representation during the sentencing phase. They hadn’t sought any mental health experts. They hadn’t talked to just a raft of witnesses, they could talk about Tommy’s upbringing. And Tommy was an individual that has an IQ of 72. He is a borderline intellect. He’s got a number of mental health issues that jeopardizes impulse control, his ability to moderate his emotions and his actions, and the attorneys just failed to present a full picture so that both the jury and the sentencing judge could be completely and well informed before making a decision as to whether Tommy should be executed, as opposed to incarcerated for this crime.



Louis Goodman

There were several judges that you dealt with along the way. I’m wondering if you could explain a little bit about the dynamic of dealing with those judges?



Donald Cameron Clark

Sure, I’m more than in high regard for the judges that we were lucky enough to have preside over the different aspects of this case. In the trial proceedings the first Judge that we presented our case to was Ned Michael Subtle, he was excellent, intelligent, thoughtful. He gave us every opportunity to present our case. I wouldn’t want to play poker with Judge Subtle, he never betrayed his thoughts or his emotions, but he gave us more than a fair opportunity to present our arguments. The Judge Subtle agreed with us that perjury had been presented. And he agreed with us that Tommy’s sentencing hearing his lawyer had fallen short of a constitutional standard required, but he only granted us a new sentencing hearing. He affirmed Tommy’s capital convicted, and so we ended up appealing Judge Subtle ruling and arguing that the perjury since it was admitted during the guilt phase, and not just the sentencing phase that painted the entire conviction. And so we ended up in the Appellate Court where we met another very distinguished jurist. Of course, it was a panel of Judges, but the Judge that ended up writing the Appellate Court Opinion, that vindicated all of our claims and ordered the Tommy’s conviction and sentence be vacated, was a woman named Sue Bell Cobb. And Sue Bell Cobb went on to become the first female Chief Justice of the Alabama Supreme Court. So we were very blessed with the caliber of Judges that we drew for this case.



Louis Goodman

One of the things that’s interesting is that while this case was pending, and while you were fighting so hard for Tommy with the highest levels of the Judicial System in the state of Alabama, Tommy managed to escape from jail.



Donald Cameron Clark

Yes, we presented our case. It took us five days an entire week, Monday through Friday to present all the evidence that we wanted to present to Judge Subtle. And after we concluded that Friday, I was looking forward to a weekend of recuperation and relaxation before we went back to court the following Monday when the State and the Attorney General’s Office would present their evidence in rebuttal. And at 6am that Saturday morning, I got a phone call from my partner, telling me that Tommy Hamilton had just escaped from jail that morning, during the walk from the cell to breakfast, and had been on the loose on the streets of Florence, Alabama, which is where we tried this case.



Louis Goodman

How did that go over with the Judges?



Donald Cameron Clark

Not well. First of all, Tommy was just lucky that local law enforcement didn’t carry out his execution, then in there on the streets of Florence, Alabama. They probably would have been hailed as heroes for gunning down and escaped murder, convicted to die in any event. But they took him into custody without killing him.



Louis Goodman

Tommy always had the goal of not just getting off of death row, not being executed, but he wanted to get out of jail. He wanted to go out and walk on the street.



Donald Cameron Clark

He did from the very beginning, Tommy told us that the only thing that he feared more than the electric chair was serving the rest of his life in prison. And so his directive to us was that if we could not get him a distinct possibility of parole, and the chance to once again be free, that he would just as soon be electrocuted.



Louis Goodman

You managed to do that for him.



Donald Cameron Clark

We did.



Louis Goodman

How did you do that? How did that come about?



Donald Cameron Clark

Well, the Criminal Court of Appeals agreed with us that this purchased perjury having been presented during the guilt phase on his trial had painted the conviction itself, the jury that recommended that Tommy be executed had done so by a vote of pinned to which is the minimum necessary to sustain a death sentence recommendation in Alabama. So we had argued that on the minimum recommendation time he had received the maximum penalty. And we argued that if just one juror could be persuaded based on the evidence that Tommy’s trial attorney should have presented with respect to his mental health and his intellectual abilities, Tommy wouldn’t have been sentenced to death. And the courts were receptive to that argument as well. So we got the conviction overturned, we got the sentence overturned. We ended up negotiating a plea agreement where Tommy, who at that time had already served seven years in prison, would agree to serve a minimum of seven more before he would become eligible for parole. And what actually happened is he ended up serving 20 years. And at the 20 year mark, the Alabama Board of Pardons and Paroles granted him parole, so he gets out.



Louis Goodman

What does he do with that opportunity?



Donald Cameron Clark

Long term, he squandered it and he was out for a while move back to his boyhood home, worked for his brother, and pretty much was doing the kinds of things you could hope for and expect. But eventually he gets violates the terms of his parole by being caught with drugs. And in being hauled back to the Lawrence County Jail to face the consequences and a possible revocation of parole. In inebriated state he makes a threat to allegedly makes a threat to kill his parole officer. And so he is now back incarcerated facing a criminal trial for that threat, and the possible revocation of his parole which would in turn send him back to jail for life. But what has ultimately happened, he’s awaiting trial on those charges and waiting and ultimate determination as to what his parole status will be. That’s pending as we speak.



Louis Goodman

One of the things that you’ve said, written perhaps, is that your job was to be Tommy’s lawyer, not to be his friend, wondering if you could talk about that a little bit.







Donald Cameron Clark

Sure. It was a little bit of a difference of opinion in approach between me and Sister Lynn. In that regard, she very much wanted to console Tommy and be an emotional and psychological resource for him. And I understand that coming from Lynn and her concerns in that regard. But I viewed my role as very much being a representing his legal interests as best I could, and solely his legal interests.



Louis Goodman

How did your firm deal with you spending so much time, not just on the case, but out of state completely?



Donald Cameron Clark

The ICM Lincoln Veal Law Firm was very supportive. And I’m grateful to them to this day, they very much embrace the notion that lawyers have a responsibility being given the privilege to be an officer of the court to give back and to do pro bono work to do volunteer work for free, especially for those that would not get representation otherwise. So they were very supportive.



Louis Goodman

Would you recommend the legal profession to a young person thinking about a career choice?



Donald Cameron Clark

I would, I think legal training and legal positions offer great opportunity to do justice work.



Louis Goodman

What do you think’s the best advice you’ve ever received?



Donald Cameron Clark

To do your best to tell the truth? And to some extent, trust your instincts?



Louis Goodman

That you’ve observed the legal system from a number of different points of view, do you think the legal system is fair?



Donald Cameron Clark

I do think it’s fair. On the whole, there are shortcomings it is a human endeavor and their human foibles and frailties that plague it, but there certainly has been way too much discrimination, especially racial discrimination in aspects of law enforcement and the judicial system. But it does provide the opportunity for famous fairness to prevail, I believe in most circumstances it does. But there certainly is reason and need for improvement. And it’s an ongoing endeavor in that regard.



Louis Goodman

Besides practicing law, are there any recreational pursuits that you enjoy, things that you use to clear your head, keep your mind and body in one piece?



Donald Cameron Clark

I’m a great ice hockey fan, the Chicago Blackhawks are my team. These days, I mentioned that I was kind of in semi retirement from practicing law, and I’ve actually moved into the entertainment field. And so now I’m producing live theater entertainment. I’ve produced a feature film, and about to produce the new planes to cargo.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you came in some real money, $3 or $4 billion. What, if anything, would you do differently in your life?



Donald Cameron Clark

Hmm. I don’t know what I would do differently in terms of my life. But I can think of a lot of charitable causes and missions and ministries that I would love to give a lot of that money to.



Louis Goodman

Let’s say you had a magic wand, there was one thing you could change. What would that be?



Donald Cameron Clark

I’d want to gain the level of interpersonal discourse that’s going on right now.



Louis Goodman

Don, is there anything that you want to talk about that we have not discussed?



Donald Cameron Clark

I encourage your folks, if they’re interested in the story to purchase the book. I think they’ll find it an interesting story. I encourage people that are thinking about the laws of possible career to view this. It is just one example of the ways that they can make a meaningful difference, that they can contribute to justice making. And the wish everybody to take the time to reflect on how they can embrace those they might have disagreements with you in a way other than I’m all always correct, and they’re always wrong.



Louis Goodman

Donald Cameron Clark, thank you so much for joining me today on the Love Thy Lawyer podcast. It’s been a pleasure talking to you.



Donald Cameron Clark

Thank you, Louis. I’ve enjoyed it. And I really appreciate the opportunity to have this conversation with you.



Louis Goodman

That’s it for today’s episode of Love Thy Lawyer. If you enjoyed listening, please share it with a friend and subscribe to the podcast and If you have comments or suggestions, send me an email. I promise I’ll respond. Take a look at our website at lovethylawyer.com where you can find all of our episodes, transcripts, photographs, and information. Thanks as always, to my guests who share their wisdom. And to Joel Katz for music, Brian Matheson for technical support, and Tracey Harvey. I’m Louis Goodman.



Donald Cameron Clark

The way I viewed things is I was defending not so much the man and what he had done, as I was defending the law, under which he should have been tried, but wasn’t.



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