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Local lawyer appointed to federal bench

The three-story, brick courthouse building at Sixth and Holly streets may seem far removed from Medford residents' daily lives.

To the court's newest magistrate judge, however, it's a symbol of Americans' most fundamental rights.

Mark D. Clarke, appointed earlier this month, said that while federal court proceedings aren't as visible to the public as those in state court, he approaches his new job with fellow citizens in mind.

"It's something that involves people's lives and liberties," Clarke said.

Civil rights, constitutional violations, employment disputes and the future of Southern Oregon's environmental resources will be under Clarke's purview. Clarke, 50, is assigned a very limited criminal caseload but already has cut his teeth on defendants' initial appearances and arraignments, which quickly demonstrated, he said, how many of the region's crimes are directly linked to methamphetamine.

"It is certainly a reality," Clarke said.

A local trial attorney since 1990, Clarke was a managing partner of Frohnmayer, Deatherage, Pratt, Jamieson, Clarke & Moore. His combined practice in state and federal courts specialized in civil defense of tort liability and negligence cases.

Former partner Steve Pratt recalled Clarke as a "really great young lawyer" when he lured him away from a Portland practice to his Medford office. Clarke infused the 80-year-old firm with youth, energy and talent, Pratt said.

Clarke quickly proved his mettle for handling litigation involving numerous parties, including a federal suit alleging the disturbance of an American Indian burial ground in Lake County, Pratt said. Defending the construction company charged with moving Indian bones, Clarke helped reach a settlement in the case without a trial.

In one case, Clarke's civil work led to the criminal conviction of a Hugo man who poisoned his wife with strychnine to receive life insurance benefits. After convincing a federal jury in a civil trial that Melvin Laird killed his wife, Linnie, in 1990, Clarke turned his investigations over to the Josephine County District Attorney's Office, which successfully prosecuted Laird for murder.

Backed, Pratt said, by more trial experience than most other judges, Clarke wanted a "new professional challenge."

A Salem native, Clarke attended Southern Oregon State College in Ashland, earning a bachelor's degree in political science in 1980. While serving as a legislative assistant for Oregon Rep. Benjamin "Kip" Lombard Jr., an Ashland Republican and attorney, Clarke became interested in the legal profession. He attended University of Oregon's law school, graduating in 1983.

The Medford resident is married and has two children: a daughter attending Arizona State University and a son in his junior year at North Medford High School.

Chosen from more than 20 candidates, Clarke is one of seven full-time magistrate judges in the state. He is confirmed for an eight-year term at a yearly salary of $152,000. Clarke follows John P. Cooney, who served as the region's first full-time magistrate judge since 1993 and retired last month.

Another local judge, Jackson County Circuit Court Judge Phil Arnold, turned down the post, issuing a statement to colleagues that he preferred to remain in his current job, Clarke said. Arnold did not return phone calls to the newspaper.

Reach reporter Sarah Lemon at 776-4487, or e-mail slemon@mailtribune.com.

Local lawyer appointed to federal bench