SPOKANE COUNTY SUPERIOR COURT
James M. Murphy
Judge Clark was born in Honolulu, Hawai'i, the oldest of four children. Like most people who live in the Islands, she is an ethnic mix-her heritage includes Portuguese, Hawaiian, Chinese, English and Spanish. On her father's side, the family can trace its roots back to Queen Kalama, one of the wives of Kamehameha the Great. Her mother's side of the family originally came to Hawai'i when one of her ancestors was kicked out of Portugal for trying to overthrow the king.
Judge Clark's father was in the Army for 20 years, and she was an "Army brat" who moved a lot and attended nine different schools before the ninth grade. She attended high school at the Kamehameha School in Honolulu. The school is a beneficiary of the Bishop Estate, a trust set up by the last of the Kamehameha royal family in the late 1880s to benefit Hawaiian children. All students are required to have Native Hawaiian blood.
Judge Clark attended the University of Hawaii at Manoa, majoring in English. She graduated in 3.5 years and decided to "explore" a little before settling down. She came to Spokane to stay with some high school friends who were finishing their undergraduate degrees at Gonzaga University. She and her friends fully intended on moving to California after graduation. She had never even thought of attending law school.
Judge Clark arrived in Spokane at 8 in the morning, and at 5 that evening met a young male first-year law student, John Clark, who thought that everyone should go to law school. She attended a few evening classes with him and found it fascinating. A few months later she started working for a small group of lawyers in town, and thought "Heck, if these guys can be lawyers, I could be a lawyer." John then challenged her to beat his LSAT score (which Judge Clark says she did-if you compare only the first test results-and John says she didn't, since he had taken the test twice and his second score was higher).
The LSAT required that the student list the law schools she was applying to. At that point, law school was more of an interest than a future profession for Judge Clark, and she only listed Gonzaga Law School; she intended to keep her job and maybe go to a few classes part-time.
Her life was changed, however, when the Gonzaga Law School called and said she was a finalist for a federal fellowship under the Women and Minorities in the Professions program under the Carter administration. The school had submitted her name and needed to make sure she was interested. Judge Clark, who had never even heard of the program but knew a good deal when she saw one, said "yes". A few days later she was notified she had indeed been awarded one of the fellowships which paid law school tuition, books, and a monthly living stipend for all three years. John again challenged her, this time to beat his grades, which she did. Both graduated cum laude but at different ends of the scale! Judge Clark then became a full-time law student.
Ellen Kalama Clark graduated in 1982 and went into private practice, first with a small law firm and then as a sole practitioner. Her practice focussed mainly on family law. In the late 80s, she was asked to become a pro tem Court Commissioner and found she truly enjoyed it. She was appointed as a full-time Superior Court Commissioner in April 1993.
As a judicial officer, Judge Clark's special concerns have been children caught in the middle of custody battles. She has worked on guardian ad litem and family law issues, and will be the Spokane County Family Law Judge in 2001. Family is also very important to Judge Clark personally-her parents have been married for 45 years, and she is part of an extended family that includes over 40 first cousins. John and Ellen Clark have been married for 19 years. They have two children, Alison, age 14, and Steve, 11.
Judge Clark strongly believes that without the encouragement and support of her husband, Gonzaga Law School, and the judicial officers of the Spokane County Superior Court, she would not have been able to become a judge. She loves her new position, but is very well aware that most people appearing in her court are there because they are in trouble or are having problems. (She does love the weddings and adoptions, where everyone is happy and wants to take pictures!) She hopes to become involved in more activities to benefit those who appear before her.
James M. Murphy is a judge of the Spokane County Superior Court and also serves as a member of the Washington State Minority and Justice Commission.